A thirst for birch

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Each day the sun cracks the ramparts of Northern Minnesota’s great boreal forest, filters through trees into my little blue house on the hill, illuminating a world quite unlike the televised universe of “Good Morning America.”

Nevertheless, each day we let the TV talk our ears off while we ingest the coffee, toast and overnight e-mails we use to start our day. It’s part tradition, part cultural touchstone. When you live in the woods you don’t always get to hear the stupid stuff people talk about, so we go right to the dense epicenter of the stupid, stupid source.

Maybe it’s unfair to pick on Good Morning America. After all, the other morning shows are very much the same, and we are under no obligation to watch any of it. We could do yoga in the dawn’s early light, light calisthenics and a round of meditation. We know people who do these things, and they are invariably happy, healthy and well-adjusted.

But our world is no place for the well-adjusted. Happiness and health are welcome, but not before 7:30, please. Not today. We’re up. The children are on the bus. What more do you want from us? No, we are not outraged by the thing that celebrity said, but we’ve already seen the cartoons on the other channel and ESPN is doing another documentary about the troops. Just 15 minutes of this as our brains prime for higher function.

(PHOTO: Ken Rowland, Flickr Creative Commons license).

(PHOTO: Ken Rowland, Flickr Creative Commons license).

The other day, it was the health benefits of birch water. In a quick 60-second video package, a trained journalist guided the viewer through the practice of drinking a concoction of water, sugar, and the inner-squeezings of birch trees. “It’s good for you,” say the people who make birch water and others who paid legitimate currency to buy large quantities of the distinctive birch bark-themed bottles off the internet.

Perhaps birch water would be a good diet aide. After all, when was the last time you saw a fat birch tree? Tall and skinny, every one of them.

In counterpoint, a lady wearing spandex turned over the bottle to read the ingredients, revealing birch water to be sugar water mixed with highly-refined tree sap. Afterward, the news anchors — millionaires, all — drank samples of the birch water the way one would drink any liquid expressed under mysterious circumstances from a dark forest: like a back woods parson sipping moonshine to be polite. Robin Roberts said she preferred regular water. George Stephanopoulos stared coldly into his glass, like the veteran of a forgotten war.

This isn’t the first time something simple and pure from our Northern world has been repackaged as a novelty for a metropolitan audience. A number of restaurants in the Twin Cities sell walleye platters and tater tot hot dishes, removing the sun baked day on the lake and grandma’s unwashed hands from the equation, not realizing that those are the most important ingredients.

Suddenly, I know how urban restaurant critics really feel when people in the sticks rave about the new Applebee’s menu.

Birch trees, along with most any non-poisonous plant in the forest, have played a role in the nutrition and healing of people and animals alike for far longer than television signals have washed over these lands. But water is always the best kind of water, and these distinctive white trees with the brown striped bark are no trend. In fact, America, you can say Good Morning to a birch tree every day at first light, and it will never, ever say anything stupid in reply.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. If you drink enough of that stuff, you start peeling.

  2. I am reminded of the threats my parents would make as us kids were getting too rambunctious: “You’re going to get a “birch float” and go to bed”.

    A birch float was a glass of water and a toothpick.

  3. The novel ‘Freedom’ increasingly reads as a mighty Minnesota miss .

  4. Many thanks for your thoughtful, poetic words … indeed, birches are magical trees (who’s sap does indeed contain sugar, naturally …. one of the best sugars there is, called xylitol). Our product, Byarozavik birch tree water, is actually quite true and pure – it is not ‘reverse-osmosed’, re-constituted, frozen then thawed, boiled down, or otherwise particularly tampered with. We bottle straight from the tree (within 24 hours of harvest) and flash pasteurize to get it through customary approvals. It’s USDA and Euroleaf organic pure stuff. And yes, we do add 7 grams of organic cane sugar per 100 ml serving – otherwise the sap has a refrigerated shelf-life of 2 days, and it won’t get to your retailer and your table … and you would miss out on its light, crisp, refreshing taste and tremendous health benefits …. and even if you were to tap your own trees (which we hope everyone has a chance to do at least once in their lives – responsibly, please), you would have to do the same thing we did to preserve the sap for any length of time unless your harvesting and storage process is entirely antiseptic – or you mess unduly with the sap’s structure. However, if one thinks and multiplies carefully, this added sugar is actually quite honest – and in sum less sugar than those of competitors (who don’t add, but ‘reverse osmose’ until the sugar content is the same if not higher … and a quarter of the sugar of most coconut waters …. who also rarely declare it on their labels. So please do enjoy a glass – it’s time indeed to say Good Morning to something real, true, and pure rather than the often under-researched and overly self-satisfied snipes on TV and the blogosphere.

  5. John Ramos says

    If you drink this stuff, your upper limbs will die and fall off as you age.

  6. Should we drink something from a species that is dying off all over northern Mn? Why are the trees dying?

    I’m actually just trying to be a bit funny. I remember an acquaintance who consumed large amounts of some field crop. It may have been alfalfa. He was convinced that a plant with deep roots had some mysterious strength.

    Or there is the recent conclusion reached by a group of both western and alternative health practices. They were looking for a word to describe these in general. They agreed on the descriptive term LUCRATIVE.

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