Betula papyrifera

Common Name: paper birch
Uses: food, medicine, tools and whips

These trees, with their beautiful white bark, grow throughout the GSR in moist soils, often mixed with black spruce. They grow larger and taller in the southern parts of the area, and are not common in the Mackenzie Delta. There are many uses for the bark and wood, making it an important tree for the Gwich'in.

Birch is a hardwood valued for its strength and resistance to cracking. It is a favoured material for making snowshoes. IN the past, the Gwich'in also used birch to make the following:

  • net needles,
  • paddles,
  • drum frames,
  • chairs and furniture,
  • taboggans,
  • snow shovels and scoops
  • handles for knives, axes, awls, slingshots, dog whips and sleds...

Section of birch wood were used for bait when setting beaver traps under the ice of a lake. Rooting birch wood was considered good for smoking skins.

To make a medicine for stomach ailments, such as heart burn and ulcers, young birch trees can be chopped down, cut into small pieces and boiled in a large pot. The stems, twigs and leaves are all used. The boiled juice, which looks like tea, should be strained before pouring it into jars. Elders advise making only enough medicine for one week, as it will spoil. They recommend drinking one-half cup in the morning before breakfast and another one at night before going to bed. Sticky gum may also be chewed and swallowed with this medicine.

-pp. 25- 26, Gwich'In Ethnobotany: Plants Used by the Gwich'In for Food, Medicine, Shelter and Tools by Alestine Andre and Alan Fehr (2002)

Betula papyrifera 1
Betula papyrifera 2