Birch sap time is here again

April in Latvia is synonymous with drinking the freshly tapped sap of the birch tree.

Drinking birch sap is almost as old as the forests themselves, but has also been very much in vogue for the past few years. Latvia's markets, stores and cafes all stock bottles of this nutrient-rich and refreshing drink. But it's much better to collect the fresh stuff yourself straight from the trunk, and under Latvian law, every person is allowed to tap one birch in state-owned forests. 

National forestry company Latvijas valsts meži (LVM, Latvian State Forests) has a video (above) reminding people of the rules, which in summary are:

  • It must be on LVM land, but not in a protected nature reserve
  • It must be a mature tree – at least 120 cm in circumference
  • The hole you make in the tree should be drilled and no wider than 6-8 mm
  • The hole should be no deeper than 5 cm
  • The hole should be no higher than 50cm from the ground
  • If you only use a small hole (as above) there is no need for a wooden plug afterwards – the tree will seal itself and using a wooden plug increases the risk of infection.
  • Don't tap the same tree two years in a row

As with all things, if you've never tapped a tree before, it's best to go the first time with someone who has experience.

You can buy modern, ready-made sets for extracting tree sap at many Latvian hardware stores. Old-school sap collecting methods tend to be a bit more brutal with use of hand-drills and larger holes.

Drinking the rising sap of the birch tree is the definitive taste of spring, and birch sap season, which runs from late March to mid April should hit its peak when warm weather arrives later this week.

For more information about Latvians' suprisingly diverse drinks list, see this recent feature

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