Birch bark: the survival miracle [examples of application]

The tree with the white bark: the birch. Birchbark is versatile and usable. You will learn more about this in the article.

from Martin Gebhardt | Plants / fungi | reading time 2 Min
Updated on 08 June 2023 70.212 views 100% found this guide helpful
Birch bark: the survival miracle [examples of application]

Martin Gebhardt

From Martin Gebhardt. Check out my “About me” page.


👉 The key facts from this guide

  • Birchbark is versatile and can be used as fuel, adhesive, building material, food, medicine, and writing material.
  • The bark contains essential oils that make it highly flammable, even when wet.
  • Birch tar, a tar-like residue, can be used as an adhesive and is the first systematically produced plastic in human history.
  • The cambium, the inner layer of the bark, can be eaten in the spring and contains nutrients and vitamins.
  • Birchbark has medicinal properties, such as antibacterial and antiviral effects, and can be used as a dressing material.
  • Thin birchbark can be used as writing material, for example, for notes or even books.

The tree with the white bark: the birch.

Surely, you know that birchbark is wonderfully usable as tinder.

But birchbark can do much more.

You will learn this and more in the article.

The bark

The other day I walked past a fallen birch tree again.

I couldn't resist and had to see if the bark was coming off well.

I can always use the tinder, and I simply enjoy working with the bark.

Even my older son spent an hour and a half during a trip just carefully peeling off the thin bark.

Birch bark: versatile
Birch bark: versatile

What is so special about birchbark?

Birchbark can be used in many ways.

For example, as:

  • fuel
  • glue
  • building material
  • food
  • medicine
  • writing material
  • art

Now I'm going to explain each individual use in more detail.

One thing first: our birch trees in Germany cannot be compared to the birches in the taiga forests in Sweden, Finland, Russia, and North America. In these forests, the birchbark can be peeled off in large pieces. Therefore, the use of these birches is more versatile.

Large pieces of birch bark can be perfectly used
Large pieces of birch bark can be perfectly used

Fuel

Many survivalists and Bushcrafters rely on Birch Bark Tinder. If you crumble the ring bark (the fine white top layer on the bark) into tiny pieces, nothing stands in the way of starting a fire. Your fire steel ignites the first small fire effortlessly (2 foolproof tricks: Making a fire with a fire steel).

Birchbark burns excellently due to the content of essential oils. You can even ignite it in a wet state - the oils are always flammable.

To be more precise, it is the substance betulin, which burns great. Betulin is a so-called terpene. Terpenes are also found in resin, which is why resin burns well too.

So, the bark can be used as tinder and as fuel to enlarge your fire. When you ignite birchbark, dark smoke is produced easily. These are the essential oils burning.

If you would like to learn more about tinder and making fires, also check out my book "Die Feuer-Fibel (in German)."

Adhesive

From birchbark, birch tar can be produced. This is done through carbonization and dry distillation. Birch tar is a black, tar-like residue. A precursor to the distillation of birch tar is birch tar oil.

Birch tar was previously used (even 50,000 years ago!) as an adhesive, mainly for joints such as between a tree limb and stone for an axe. It is proven to be the first systematically produced plastic in human history.

streichholzschachtel aus birkenrinde

Building Material

If you can peel large pieces off the birch tree, these pieces can be used as building material.

For example, as roof shingles or as a cover for wigwams.

Further possibilities include:

Birchbark is also used to protect against the cold. The bark is used as insulation, for example as a base for sleeping.

Here you see woven birchbark, which serves as the basic material for baskets and containers.

Woven birch bark, e.g. for baskets
Woven birch bark, e.g. for baskets

Nutrition

In addition to being used as a building material or glue, birchbark was also an important part of the diet. The inner bark of the birch is rich in vitamin C and has therefore been used as an essential food source, especially in times when other sources were scarce.

The bark was usually stripped from young trees in spring when nutrients were at their highest. The bark was then either eaten raw or crushed into flour to make bread or biscuits.

Birch water, obtained by drilling into the tree, was also considered a valuable source of vitamin C and could be used as a refreshing drink or as a base for soups and stews.

Birkenzweige als Kehrbesen
Birkenzweige als Kehrbesen

Furthermore, the cambium can be eaten in spring. This is the inner layer of birchbark, where you can find the most nutrients and vitamins. The cambium is cut into thin strips and then prepared like cooked vegetables.

Recommended reading: Can you eat tree bark to survive? What does tree bark taste like?

In the past, dried leaves from spring were used as an adulteration agent for tobacco and tea.

In April, you can harvest the leaves and eat them directly, add them to a salad, or cook them as a vegetable.

The dried flowers can be used as chutney or as an adulteration agent between April and May.

Medicine

Birchbark has been considered a natural remedy since the Middle Ages.

The bark contains chemical substances that kill bacteria. In addition, antiviral effects have been recognized. Some scientists are even convinced that birchbark shows effectiveness against HIV, malaria, and tumors.

A tea made from birch leaves is still used for diuresis in inflammatory diseases of the kidneys and bladder.

The birchbark can be used as a decoction, which is believed to help with skin diseases.

If you get injured in the woods, you can use thin birchbark as a bandage. It stops bleeding and promotes healing.

A dead birch tree with tree fungi
A dead birch tree with tree fungi

Writing material

Here, too, birchbark has been in use for thousands of years. Before the era of written history, birchbark was already used as a writing material.

If expertly removed in thin strips from large pieces, it can be used to create a genuine book.

In emergencies, it could be used to leave a message. Charcoal is a suitable material for writing on birchbark.

Summary

Birchbark is versatile. The birch tree grows almost anywhere and has only low demands on soil and climate.

Did you know that you can also obtain birch sap to drink? And that you can eat birch leaves without hesitation?

Birch sap can be tapped in spring
Birch sap can be tapped in spring

I am always fascinated by birch trees and their bark.

You can find even more survival trees in my guide "6 trees that every survivalist should know".


Have you ever done anything with birchbark?

Used it as tinder? As a container? Tell me about it in the comments.

Take care, Martin
Sources for the guide

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birken

Martin Gebhardt

Author of the guide


Martin Gebhardt

Hey, I'm Martin. On my blog, you will learn the basics and numerous details about living in the wild. I think survival, bushcraft and the good life in nature are the keys to happiness. Find me here on Instagram or on YouTube. You can find more about my mission on the About Me page.

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