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Belarusians Bemused By Birch-Water Ballyhoo


Birch sap, or birth water, is harvested from silver birch trees in the early spring.

Birch sap, or birth water, is harvested from silver birch trees in the early spring.

Birch water is being touted as the health craze of 2015, the new drink that will unseat coconut water as the "ultimate superfood."

Health-conscious Westerners are extolling the healing properties of birch water, an allegedly potent antioxidant that is claimed to reduce cellulite and tackle woes ranging from kidney stones to dandruff, flu, headaches, eczema, and rheumatism.

Harvested from silver birch trees in early spring, it is also praised as a beauty tonic that helps smooth out wrinkles.

Yet in Belarus, one of the biggest suppliers, birch water is not exactly a glamorous beverage.

"It's tasty when fermented," a middle-aged man tells RFE/RL in the southwestern city of Brest. "It quenches thirst, especially when you're planting potatoes in spring."

"My granny buys it from the forestry cooperative," says a young woman, also from Brest. "We store jars and drink it through winter."

Birch water has been a staple for centuries in Eastern Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, and even parts of northern China.

The popularity of birch water abruptly declined following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which produced it in vast quantities.

Thanks to the booming market for healthy products it's making a comeback, and Belarus has emerged as a leading producer.

Byarozavik, produced by the Minsk Soft Drink Factory, is among a handful of birch-water brands imported by the United States.

Its website describes it as a "non-GMO, gluten free, USDA organic" health drink.

It can also be purchased on Amazon at almost $42 for a 12-bottle pack.

The popularity of birch water abruptly declined following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which produced it in vast quantities.

The popularity of birch water abruptly declined following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which produced it in vast quantities.

While birch water is undoubtedly a healthier option than most other soft drinks, there is little evidence on the actual health benefits of birch sap.

As for Belarusians, many of whom still harvest their own birch water, they are both pleased and amused by all the hype surrounding their no-frills traditional beverage.

"My family has harvested birch water as long as I can remember," quips an elderly Brest resident. "Let Americans drink it, maybe it will make them healthier and smarter!"

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