This common deciduous tree can be found throughout Europe and the UK and can be seen in large numbers in some UK woodlands and is generally more common in the South of the UK. It is a distinctive tree when mature having white shiny bark with horizontal gray/ black markings, the trunk bark is normally knobbly and fissured towards the base of the tree. It grows up to 30 meters in height with dark green triangular blade shaped leaves on 2-3 cm stalks. It has both male and female flowers on the same tree and produces male catkins up to 10 cm long.
Extracts from the Silver birch have been used to treat fluid retention, rheumatism and gout and it has also some Cholesterol reducing properties. Oils from the tree have been used in soap. From a survival point of view the tree isn't overly useful for its medicinal value but offers various uses for the survivalist. Firstly its leaves can be used to produce green and yellow dyes and syrup and wine can be made from its sap. The bark however can be carefully stripped in sections, the inner woody lining removed and rolled into a cone shape to provide a simple water holding cup. This is best done from a tree that has recently died and fallen. Dead silver birches often rot from the inside with the decaying matter held together by the bark. This offers a ready packet of wood feeding grubs and insects such as woodlouse which can then be eaten. The decomposing wood if dry can then be used as tinder. Dead silver birches are also a favourite home for bracken or plate fungi many types of which can be eaten. So one dead silver birch can often provide, tinder, a cup, a variety of edible insects and often edible fungi
What Culpepper says
THE BIRCH TREE
Description. This groweth a goodly tall straight tree, fraught with many boughs, and slender branches bending downward: the old being coloured with discoloured chapped bark, and the younger being browner by much. The leaves at the first breaking out are crumpled, and afterwards like the beech leaves, but smaller and greener, and dented about the edges. It bears short cat-skins, somewhat like those of the hazelnut- tree, which abide on the branches a long time, until growing ripe, they fall on the ground and their seed with them.
Place. It usually groweth in woods.
Government and virtues. It is a tree of Venus, the juice of the leaves, while they are young, or the distilled water of them, or the water that comes from the tree being bored with an auger, and distilled afterwards; any of these being drank for some days together, is available to break the stone in the kidneys and bladder and is good also to wash sore mouths.