A Russian birch bark letter from the 14th century
Birchbark shoes

Birch bark or birchbark is the bark of several Eurasian and North American birch trees of the genus Betula.

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. 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 storage

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.


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.


A birch bark longhouse on Whitefish Island in Canada
Finnish fishing net weights made out of birch bark and stones
North American birchbark canoe
Birchbark knife handle

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[citation needed]. Other uses include:

Birch bark also makes an outstanding tinder, as the inner layers will stay dry even through heavy rainstorms.

Medical uses

Main article: Birch triterpenes

Filsuvez is a topical medication with birch bark extract as its active ingredient.[8] It is used to treat two types of epidermolysis bullosa, dystrophic and junctional, targeting partial-thickness skin wounds. Common side effects include wound complications, skin reactions, infections, itching, and allergic reactions.[8] Filsuvez was approved in the European Union in June 2022[8][9] and in the United States in December 2023.[10][11] It is considered a first-in-class medication by the US Food and Drug Administration.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Vennum T, Weber C, Nyholm E (1999). Earl's Canoe: A Traditional Ojibwe Craft. Smithsonian Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies. Archived from the original on 4 January 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  2. ^ Hayes D (2002). Historical Atlas of Canada: Canada's History Illustrated with Original Maps. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd. p. 152.
  3. ^ Boszhardt RF (2003). Deep Cave Rock Art in the Upper Mississippi Valley. St. Paul: Prairie Smoke Press. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0-9704482-3-6.
  4. ^ Losty JP (1982). The art of the book in India. British Library. Reference Division. London: British Library. ISBN 0904654788. OCLC 8653520.
  5. ^ Salomon R, Barnard M, Allchin FR (1999). Ancient Buddhist scrolls from Gandhāra: the British Library Kharoṣṭhī fragments. London: The British Library. ISBN 0712346112. OCLC 263439456.
  6. ^ Kozowyk PR, Soressi M, Pomstra D, Langejans GH (August 2017). "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. PMC 5579016. PMID 28860591.
  7. ^ Schmidt P, Blessing M, Rageot M, Iovita R, Pfleging J, Nickel KG, et al. (September 2019). "Birch tar production does not prove Neanderthal behavioral complexity". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 116 (36): 17707–17711. Bibcode:2019PNAS..11617707S. doi:10.1073/pnas.1911137116. PMC 6731756. PMID 31427508.
  8. ^ a b c "Filsuvez EPAR". European Medicines Agency (EMA). 13 April 2022. Archived from the original on 6 July 2022. Retrieved 6 July 2022. Text was copied from this source which is copyright European Medicines Agency. Reproduction is authorized provided the source is acknowledged.
  9. ^ "Filsuvez Product information". Union Register of medicinal products. Archived from the original on 4 March 2023. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  10. ^ "Chiesi Global Rare Diseases Receives FDA Approval for Filsuvez (birch triterpenes) topical gel for the Treatment of Epidermolysis Bullosa". Chiesi Global Rare Diseases (Press release). 19 December 2023. Archived from the original on 22 December 2023. Retrieved 22 December 2023.
  11. ^ "Novel Drug Approvals for 2023". U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 19 December 2023. Archived from the original on 21 January 2023. Retrieved 22 December 2023.
  12. ^ New Drug Therapy Approvals 2023 (PDF). U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (Report). January 2024. Archived from the original on 10 January 2024. Retrieved 9 January 2024.

Further reading

Winter bark etching on canoe
  • McPhee J (1975). The Survival of the Bark Canoe. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Adney ET, Chapelle H (2014). Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
  • Jennings J (2004). Bark Canoes: The Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney. Firefly Books Ltd.
  • Behne CT, ed. (2010). The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890. Estate of Tappan Adney.
  • Goode FW (2012). Ojibwe Birch Bark Canoes: Anishinaabe Wigwassi-Jiimaan. Beaver Bark Canoes.