The strong and water-resistant cardboard-like bark can be easily cut, bent, and sewn, which has made it a valuable building, crafting, and writing material, since pre-historic times. Even today, birch bark remains a popular type of wood for various handicrafts and arts.
Birch bark also contains substances of medicinal and chemical interest. Some of those products (such as betulin) also have fungicidal properties that help preserve bark artifacts, as well as food preserved in bark containers.
Collection and storageEdit
Birchbark box with lid and bottom of birch wood
Removing birch bark from live trees is harmful to tree health and should be avoided. Instead, it can be removed fairly easily from the trunk or branches of dead wood, by cutting a slit lengthwise through the bark and pulling or prying it away from the wood. The best time for collection is spring or early summer, as the bark is of better quality and most easily removed.
Removing the outer (light) layer of bark from the trunk of a living tree may not kill it, but probably weakens it and makes it more prone to infections. Removal of the inner (dark) layer, the phloem, kills the tree by preventing the flow of sap to the roots.
To prevent it from rolling up during storage, the bark should be spread open and kept pressed flat.
Contemporary quillwork design on birch bark, by Ferdy Goode
Birch bark can be cut with a sharp knife, and worked like cardboard. For sharp bending, the fold should be scored (scratched) first with a blunt stylus.
Fresh bark can be worked as is; bark that has dried up (before or after collection) should be softened by steaming, by soaking in warm water, or over a fire.
Birch bark was a valuable construction material in any part of the world where birch trees were available. Containers such as wrappings, bags, baskets, boxes, or quivers were made by most societies well before pottery was invented. Other uses include:
In various Asian countries (including Siberia) birch bark was used to make storage boxes, paper, tinder, canoes, roof coverings, tents, and waterproof covering for composite bows, such as the Mongol bow, the Chinese bow, Korean bow, Turkish bows, Assyrian bow, the Perso-Parthian bow...etc. It is still being used. More than one variety of birch is used.
Neanderthals used birch bark to make a tar adhesive through the process of dry or destructive distillation.
Birch bark also makes an outstanding tinder, as the inner layers will stay dry even through heavy rainstorms.
On 22 April 2022, the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) adopted a positive opinion, recommending the granting of a marketing authorization for the medicinal product Filsuvez, intended for the treatment of epidermolysis bullosa (EB). The applicant for this medicinal product is Amryt Pharmaceuticals DAC. Filsuvez will be available as a gel for cutaneous use. The active substance of Filsuvez is birch bark extract (as dry extract, refined) from Betula pendula Roth/Betula pubescens Ehrh. (equivalent to 0.5‑1.0 g birch bark), including 84‑95 mg triterpenes calculated as the sum of betulin, betulinic acid, erythrodiol, lupeol and oleanolic acid. It is thought to work by modulating inflammatory mediators and stimulating keratinocyte differentiation and migration, thereby promoting wound healing and closure.
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^Kozowyk, P. R. B.; Soressi, M.; Pomstra, D.; Langejans, G. H. J. (2017-08-31). "Experimental methods for the Palaeolithic dry distillation of birch bark: implications for the origin and development of Neandertal adhesive technology". Scientific Reports. 7 (1): 8033. Bibcode:2017NatSR...7.8033K. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-08106-7. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC5579016. PMID28860591.
^Schmidt, P.; Blessing, M.; Rageot, M.; Iovita, R.; Pfleging, J.; Nickel, K. G.; Righetti, L. & Tennie, C. (2019). "Birch tar extraction does not prove Neanderthal behavioral complexity". PNAS. 116 (36): 17707–17711. doi:10.1073/pnas.1911137116. PMC6731756. PMID31427508.
^ abcde"Filsuvez: Pending EC decision". European Medicines Agency (EMA). 22 April 2022. Retrieved 22 April 2022. Text was copied from this source which is copyright European Medicines Agency. Reproduction is authorized provided the source is acknowledged.
The Algonquin Birchbark Canoe, by David Gidmark.
Winter bark etching on canoe
McPhee, John, The Survival of the Bark Canoe, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1975.
Adney, Edwin Tappan and Howard Chapelle, Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007, 2014.
Jennings, John, Bark Canoes: The Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney, Firefly Books Ltd., 2004.
Behne, C. Ted, editor, The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890, Estate of Tappan Adney, 2010.