Many edible mushrooms have symbiotic relationships with birch, but the tree itself can provide a delicious product . . .
This tree’s sobriquet ‘silver’ is a comparatively recent invention – often credited to a Tennison poem. In reality the second part of its scientific name (Betula alba) seems more apt (it means ‘white’). This is particularly so in late winter when the bleached bark stands out in damp woods. Foresters usually regard it as a weed, but more charitable voices describe it as a ‘pioneer’, for this is usually first to appear on waste ground, thanks to its downy seeds which can be carried long distances by the wind.
It has long been considered lucky, perhaps because it is one of the first to burst into life in spring. Its sap rises from early March and this sugary liquid makes a good base for a drinkable country wine. To collect, drill a hole at an angle up into the tree about two foot from the ground. Insert a length of tubing and feed the other end into a collecting bottle. A decent-sized tree can quickly produce a couple of litres after which you should plug the hole with dowel. The wine is made by adding lemon, raisins, sugar and yeast and fermenting in a warm place for a month. It is ready for drinking in the autumn.