Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


0261. Easter tradition in Sweden – birch the main plant used for Easter decoration.  There is nothing green in Sweden at this time of year …  Birch branches are taken in a week or so in advance of Easter to bring on the leaves [Balham, London, April 2023].

2. In France our neighbour tapped our silver birch trees each year and drank the sap for her kidneys and liver [Leigh-on-Sea Horticultural Society, Essex, January 2019].

3. (photo) Branch of birch decorating St John the Baptist church, Frome, Somerset, Whitsunday, 25 May 2015:  ‘It is a tradition at St John’s that, at Whitsun (Pentecost) we decorate the church with young branches [of birch, though in 2015 one branch was of beech, Fagus sylvatica].  The branches are cut down in Longleat forest and, once in place, symbolise the birth of the church.  Also, as the breeze runs through the leaves, it reminds us of the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit as it came upon the first apostles.’

4.  A friend and I burnt silver birch twigs on [the 2013] Winter Solstice.  It burns blue.  We wrote down one negative thing we wanted to change the following year, one thing we wanted to stay the same, and another hopeful thing.  We then burnt the pieces of paper on the birch fire [Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey, September 2014].

5.  I’m over 70 years old and was born and bred in Inverness-shire. I spent many summers in the company of my grandmother who was very knowledgeable about potions and cures from indigenous plants and flora …
A cure for headache was derived from birch bark sap. I believe it contains asprin [Aultvaich, Inverness-shire, April 2012].

6. [Germany]  We used to collect sap from birch trees in the spring, and boil it down to make a thick syrup which was good with pancakes [Sydenham, London, August 2009].

0066. I was born and brought up on a farm. We had a lot of birch trees. Each year my father used to tap the trees – that is cut a slot in the bark about three to four inches long, and insert a piece of elder wood, which was split and had its soft centre removed, at the lower end of the cut bark. The sap ran out and was collected in enamel buckets. When enough sap was collected it was made into wine, which was said to be of great help to rheumatism [Grosmont, Gwent, November 1994].

Images: planted, Beckenham Place Park, London Borough of Lewisham, August 2014; lower inset, Harpenden Common, Hertfordshire, April 2015.