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Refreshing and revitalising

All Areas > Food & Drink > Wild Food Foraging

Author: Steven Hawley, Posted: Tuesday, 24th February 2015, 08:00

Assuming the weather has worked out what it’s supposed to be doing at this time of year, everything should be starting to look a lot more alive after winter and the first two weeks of March is the perfect time to find fresh sap coursing through the capillaries of Birch trees. With a little consideration you can harvest this sweet, clear nectar for yourself. All you need is string, a pocket knife and a plastic drinks bottle.

This method might sound brutal, but I assure you it will cause less harm to the tree than a blood test at your local doctors. At least the tree can’t see the size of the needle! That being said, it’s important to familiarise yourself with UK knife legislation found at gov.uk. Otherwise, you’ll have a job explaining yourself to PC Perturbed if he or she catches you poking at living things with anything bigger than a pocket knife.

1. Place the tip of your blade against the trunk of a Birch tree, three or four feet from ground level. At a steep upward angle, carefully push on the knife so that the blade goes in by a few centimetres. Clear liquid should dribble out within a few seconds. If there isn't any, come back and try again a different day – this tree hasn’t woken up yet!

2. Once the sap is running, whittle the end of a small stick to a flat point and insert it into the hole you just made. The sap should run down the stick and drip off the end like a tap. All you need to do now is tie your plastic bottle onto the tree just below the tap to catch the sap.

3. Leave it for a short while to collect. This is a perfect opportunity to take the dog for a walk – that’s code for a swift pint at the pub in my household! By the time you return to the tree you should have a refreshing drink full of goodness with which to revitalise yourself. Birch sap has the colour and consistency of water and is slightly sweet. It is perfectly safe to drink straight out of the bottle or, if you’re feeling brave, you can naturally ferment it. It doesn’t have a very long shelf life, so it only keeps for two to three days after tapping (even if refrigerated).

To keep the tree healthy, don’t take more than one litre and always make sure you remove your tap and firmly press the flap of bark closed when you’re finished. The tree will take care of the rest. Sappy days! (Sorry.)

If you’re not 100% sure that the plant you’re picking is safe for human consumption, don’t pick it. If you’re prone to food allergies, always seek medical advice before consuming anything foraged in the wild.

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