NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art
Indigenous Plants & Native Uses in the Northeast

(Betula species)
PAPER BIRCH Food: Broken twigs of the Yellow birch (B. alleghaniensis) and Black or Sweet birch (B. Nigra) have a wintergreen fragrance. A sap can be collected and boiled down from Yellow birch. From Black birch harvest the twigs, red inner bark and larger roots. The inner bark can be boiled or ground into a flour. Twigs and inner bark can be steeped into a tea. Wintergreen flavor is stronger in Black birch.

Medicine: Chippewa made a medicine from Black and White birch (B. papyrifera) for stomach pain.

Technology: New England tribes used the bark of White or Paper Birch for many purposes. Large bark sheets were stripped from the tree in late spring to use as house coverings or to build canoes. Smaller pieces of bark were cut into patterns and used to make dishes and utensils, including seamless maple sap collecting dishes and maple sugar storage containers (makaks). The bark was also cut and folded to make baskets, fans and even tinder to fish by torchlight from canoes. Folding and biting single thin layers of the paper produced dental pictographs, or birch bark transparencies, that could be used for beadwork designs and patterns for other decorations.

Note: Indian legend surround the distinctive markings of the birch tree. The bark of this tree was never taken without acknowledgement its importance to Native Americans and without offering and thanks to the spirits that provide it. Read the Ojibwe story of Winnebojo & the Birch Tree. For additional information browse NativeTech's Uses of Birchbark.

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