The Birch Tree


The silvery groves of birches regenerate the soil, transforming it from dry, degraded, and sterile to moist and fertile ground for other plant species. Birch groves naturally develop where forests have been cut down, burned, on deforested slopes, and in rocky places with skeletal soils.

Three species of the same family fall under the name of birch în Romania. The most well-known and used among them is Betula pendula L., the silver birch, named so because of its white bark, also called “măstacăn” in Transylvania. The black birch, Betula carpatica Willd, with its thick, dark, and cracked bark. Then there’s the downy birch, Betula pubescens Ehrh.

In the household

Birchwood found its way into a multitude of elements frequently used in rural settings, practically everywhere you look in a person’s household, you’ll find it.
In the construction of carts and wagons, it was used for axles and shafts, for levers, shafts, for wheel hubs, or plow handles. Its wood was also used for scythes’ handles, whetstones, or hoops for baskets. Thinner branches were used for weaving baskets, for stable and garden brooms, as well as “felezuiele” instruments like brooms used for separating wheat from chaff.

Birch bark was soaked to obtain a tanning agent used in processing leather for sandals or a lining for tanning, baskets for harvesting fruits, salt shakers, and “dorhot” (a kind of tar) used to grease both carts and boots.

The thin, white, durable, and flexible bark of the birch was used to cover trumpets and alpenhorns, with which the shepherd would signal the herders to bring the sheep from the pasture to the fold.

However, you won’t find birch in house construction, as its wood rots too quickly. So much so that there’s a saying in Moldova: “If the birch weren’t ashamed of the other trees, it would rot even before reaching home.”

Remedies from twigs, tar, bark, sap, leaves, and buds

Birch twigs were used as a remedy for a condition called “pecingene” in the following way: a small branch is lit on one end, and once it’s ignited, it’s extinguished on the blade of an axe, and while still hot, the sap-like liquid that oozes out is applied to the “pecingene” to promote healing. To make sure it will work, some women take a little ash from the burned birch tree, sprinkle it with water, and apply it to treat ‘pecingenea,’ addressing it in the morning: ‘Good evening, pecingene! As it’s not evening now, may you dissapear until the evening!’ They would then repeat the same ritual in the evening, saying: ‘Good morning, pecingene!’

Birch twigs are used in chants for ‘sweet sores,’ specifically with three small branches that are chewed in a glass of brandy:
‘Nine brothers were chosen
From nine fathers
With nine knives
And they left
From the big forest,
On the path,
Through the valley,
You nine brothers
From nine fathers
With nine knives,
Hasten to N.
To the sweet sores of N.
And take them
From the corners of the head
From the front of the cheeks,
From 99 tendons
And from 99 joints!
Let N. remain clean,
As left by God
And baptized by the priest!’
After that, N. should taste a bit of garlic and a sip of the enchanted brandy, and the sweet sores should be treated with an ointment made from the lard of three pigs and vinegar from three vats.

From Ion Creangă, in ‘Childhood Memories,’ we learn that the tar made from birch bark, that greasy tar, was good for healing scabies: ‘And after our grandmother scolded and cried over us, aș she used to do, and after she fed us with the best she had and stuffed us well, she quickly went into the pantry, took out a jug of birch tar, rubbed us all over, from head to toe, and then she put us to bed on the warm stove. And she did the same, rubbing us two, three times a day with it until, on Dry Friday, we woke up completely healed.’

Birch bark also helps with toothaches. First, the white skin is peeled, and the remaining part is boiled in a new pot with clean water on low heat. The resulting juice is kept in the mouth for a while, then spat out, another portion is taken, and so on until the pain disappears.

‘Mursa’ is, in fact, the sap of the birch tree, which people not only drink as a refreshing and tasty liquid but also used in making plasters to heal various wounds. To extract the tree’s sap, a hole is made in its bark, a tube is inserted, and underneath it, a container is placed to collect the sap. This yellowish liquid, the birch’s blood, also has the property of rejuvenating the skin, making it smoother, whiter, and reducing wrinkles. Usually, women were the ones who went in the spring, extracting the sap, part of which they drank, and with the rest, they washed their faces. However, for healing and beautifying people, the birch sacrifices its life because once its sap has drained, it dries up in the same year.

An old saying among the people informs us that birch sap is not as tasty as it used to be before Christianity, as ‘birch is not a clean wood, for Judas hanged himself on it. Before he hanged himself, its juice was as sweet as honey, and people drank it, but now it’s bitter as gall.’

Tea made from birch leaves is good for kidney stones and gravel, gout, scrofula, or skin diseases. And the tea from birch buds reduces inflammation in heart or kidney diseases.

For Dyeing Wool

In the past, birch was one of the most commonly used natural dyes. To dye wool yellow, both the bark and the leaves of the birch tree were used, both prepared in a similar manner. The bark was boiled with sour sorrel and water. When the liquid seemed adequately colored, alum was added, followed by the wool they wanted to dye. Birch leaves were also boiled with sorrel, and alum was added to this mixture as well, and then the wool was dyed.

Rituals of “Sângeorz”, “Armindeni”, “Băbăludă”

On May 1st, in Transylvania, young birch saplings known as “armindeni” are cut and placed in the yards of unmarried girls. In the Apuseni Mountains, the “Sângeorz” is dressed with young birch branches, while in the village of Buru near Turda, on the day of St. George, dresses are made from the newly sprouted branches of the tree. These dresses are worn by the “băbăluzi”, heralds of spring, in a fertility ritual.

We have documented the Băbăluda ritual this spring, and you can watch the video documentaries here: – the whole ritual – the story of this ritual during the years, told by mister Moisa, the oldest living”băbălud”


1. Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Volumul III/ Ediție critică, introducere, repere biobibliografice,
indice Botanica, indice capitole publicate antum/postum, text stabilit, indice informatori și bibliografie de Aura
Brădățan, Editura Academiei Române, Suceava, 2010
3. Valer Butură, Enciclopedie de etnobotanică românească, Editura Științifică și enciclopedică, București, 1979
4. Vasile Voiculescu, Cartea satului, Toate leacurile la îndemână, Ed. III-a, Fundația Culturală Regală ”Principele
Carol”, Insitutul de arte Grafice ”Luceafărul” S.A., București, 1938

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