Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Homemade Birch Syrup

We've dreamed for years about getting bees and hives so we'd have our own sweetener.  So far we've gone as far as buying a couple of books and visiting someone in the area who has hives, but that's it.  We live in a cold climate, and to make it even more challenging, our home is several hundred feet above the valley, tucked back in the mountains.  The season for flowers and pollen is a very short one.
We don't have maple trees up here, but we do have a lot of Birch Trees.  A few years ago we stumbled across a youtube video about making syrup from the sap of Birch trees. Apparently you can also use sap from other trees such as Larch (Tamarak).
We have a few dozen Birch trees on our property, so we decided to give it a try.  What could fit in better with Poverty Prepping than producing one's own sweetener or syrup!

First, my husband cut some pieces of PVC pipe to about 3" long, then sliced off a piece to make an angle on one end.  The lighter is there to provide a scale for size/length.

Then he drilled a hole about an inch into a Birch tree.  He held the notched part facing upward and pounded it into the tree.  The sap started flowing out the tube right away.  He pounded a nail into the tree above the tap and hung a bucket on it.

He decided to experiment with different containers to catch the sap in.  This is a juice bottle with a hole cut in the side near the top, just big enough for the end of the pipe to go into.  He hung the bottle with baling twine from a nail.  The nice thing about this set-up is that it keeps debris and bugs out of the sap.

We thought the cold night would slow down the sap run, but it flowed pretty good over night.  It overflowed this jar and made an icicle hanging from the bottom!

The birch sap is clear, like water.  We filtered it using this 2-part funnel with a coffee filter held snug between the parts.  We learned to filter it before starting to boil it down, because as it thickens it runs very slowly through the coffee filter.

Here it is from the side.  It's hard to believe this "water" will evaporate and thicken as it boils down, and become sweet!

We started off using this one kettle on the woodstove, but after a few hours we added a huge 5-gallon kettle.  We were getting backed up on buckets full of sap!  This might not be as cost-effective if a person had to simmer it for a few days on a stove that requires fuel that you pay for (gas, electric, etc.), but for us, we cut our own firewood on our property, so it doesn't really cost us anything to simmer sap for days.
Someday we hope to build an outside fireplace and simmer it outside, and we can do clean-up in our woods at the same time, burning the sticks and pine cones as fuel to boil down the sap.

 We let the smaller kettle boil down to the last half inch and poured it into a pint jar.  You can see how much it's darkened.  We poured it on pancakes this morning, and YUM!  It's delicious.  It's similar to Maple syrup with more of a fruity taste, but definitely sweet!  I give it two thumbs up, and I'm excited that we'll have several gallons of this when we're done.  If we can use it as a sweetener in tea and/or baked products, we will have met one of our biggest challenges to self-sufficiency and living on a poverty budget!


  1. Thanks Susan, we just hauled in a couple buckets full of birch sap and I just needed a bit of a thumbs up to make sure we were on the right track. This is our first experience and I'm excited that we can have a taste of our own sweetner this spring.

  2. That's exciting! Let us know how it goes. If you'd like to have your pictures on here as well, you can email them to me and I'll post them! It's wonderful to hear from someone else doing this!

  3. Hi! Just bought your book an hour or so ago....Congratulations on making it all so PRACTICAL! EasyPeasey Prepping! Now for my question....
    Which end of the little pipe goes into the tree? and does it matter which way is up? how many hours did you [boil or simmer?] the birch sap? what about alder trees? in my 'neck o the woods, we've got a LOT of alders...

    1. Hi Deborah! I'm glad you like the book! The end of the pipe that goes into the tree is the end that is cut at an angle. Put the notched side up, or should I say the short side? The longer side goes down, and the sap runs down into the opening left by the short side when the pipe is pounded into the tree. Then it runs down the pipe and drips into whatever container you have hung under it!

      I searched making syrup from alder sap and I found several sites that say you can do it. Let us know if you decide to try it!

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. Another way to lower fuel costs and even time spent is to freeze the sap and thaw it tossing out the last of the ice to thaw. The ice has minimal sugars in it. There have been several articles on it including one in Mother Earth News. This is all achieved through a process known as reverse Osmosis. Despite what some people say it can be done without the machine. This is the first article I read on it.

    The other thing is to look up Rocket Stoves there are some very cheap easy ways to make these with a few cement blocks, because of the way these burn they tend to be much more efficient.
    Just some thoughts.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. In our unique case we're off-grid, and while we do run a low-watt electric refrigerator from about the first of May through the first of October (prime sun months this far north), sap season is over by the time we would have the ability to freeze the sap. For those on-grid it would be practical to do this, to reduce the boiling-down time.

      We boiled ours down on the woodstove, which was burning anyway so no extra cost to us, but if person didn't have that capability the rocket stove would probably be a great way to lower the cost of fuel for boiling down the sap. It really is a long and tedious job, gathering and boiling down the sap. The finished product, the syrup, is great.

      Thanks for the link to the article in Mother Earth News. They've been one of the most useful magazines we've ever read, since way back in the 70s.