Hello again! I’ve been working on my next novel for the past two months, but now I’m back to blogging.
In researching life in sixth century Sweden and Finland as background for book # 2 of The Women of Beowulf series , I came across many references to the use of birch trees or birch bark in everyday life. Since birch forests covered a large area of those countries, one would expect the inhabitants to use birch for fuel and timber, but its various domestic applications surprised and delighted me. I just couldn’t wait until publication of the second book to share this amazing information – so here it is!
Baskets of birch bark held the seeds (e.g. hemp and barley) while fields were sown. Smaller baskets became baking pans for a dough mixture of flour, salt and blood. Birch bark could also be fashioned into salt containers, or made into satchels to transport provisions for work and travel.
In the spring, birch sap was tapped to be drunk by humans and/or given to cattle to supplement their fodder. In times of famine, dried and ground birch bark could be added to flour as a filler.
The ash from burned birch logs was turned into lye for soap-making. Birch was also used to tan the hides of cows and oxen for making shoes. Birch was burned to produce a tar used for lubricating tools and machinery. On a more fragrant note, fresh birch branches were used as whisks to stimulate circulation after a sauna bath. Birch branches also became part of the decorations used inside and outside the house on the summer solstice.
I have always loved the beauty of fluttering birch leaves, and we wrap the trunk of birch trees at our northern cabin to protect them from the gnawing teeth of beaver. I’ve used birch bark to write love notes to my sweetheart, just as my father once used birch bark to write a journal of his fishing adventures in the wilderness. Now, after what I’ve learned, I have even more respect for birch and for the ingenuity of our ancestors.