Have You Ever Licked a Birch Tree?

tree bark wintergreen smell
A yellow birch tree’s bark smells like wintergreen.

“Smelled!” I meant “Have you ever smelled a birch tree?” Lick it? Who would do sucha thing…?

A couple weekends ago my husband and I went hiking with my good friend Gina and her boyfriend Kurtis.

Birch bark smell wintergreen
McConnells Mill State Park on Slippery Rock Creek in northwestern Pennsylvania

We went to McConnell’s Mill State Park on one of their favorite paths near the river.

Birch bark smell wintergreen
We’re all six degrees of Gina. Here she and Kurtis pose on the bridge before I easily pick up her tall slender frame for a cheese pose.

Kurtis is a “tree man,” an arborist, and it’s fun to walk through the woods with his knowledge of trees and Gina’s knowledge of edible plants. It’s like a horticultural petting zoo and buffet all in one. We explored and talked about the trees and plants we were passing.

Birch bark smell wintergreen
Just a few of the many faces of McConnells Mill State Park in Pennsylvania

Birch bark smell wintergreenMy husband and I talked about our love of the varieties of Christmas trees we’ve taken from the overgrown and under-culled woods behind our house, where the previous owner attempted to create his own nursery. If you’ve been around enough variety of trees, you realize that many have distinctive signature scents—whether in the needles or in the bark—which immediately imprint on you.

An example of this is the concolor fir tree. Whether you argue it smells like a grapefruit or an orange, there is no question of a citrus scent when you break open a needle. It’s our favorite holiday tree and fortunately for us, the previous owner went apeshit when planting and placed them all too close together, so we could easily be grooming “the back 40” for years to come.

In turn, Gina and Kurtis told us about the smell of a yellow birch tree. I would have been skeptical about whether the bark of a tree might smell so good, but after I tasted the bark of a shagbark hickory tree in the syrup we bought from Michael of Simple Gourmet Syrups (see photo/caption in the first Apple Butter Stirrin’ Festival Blog) I was excited to try it.Birch bark smell wintergreen

We soon found a yellow birch tree and Kurtis snapped off a twig and rubbed off the bark. We each took turns holding it to our noses. The smell was so crisp that despite my sinus congestion, I recognized it immediately: wintergreen!

Birch bark smell wintergreen
It only takes a little twig and a little scratch to smell the wintergreen!!

If you know me at all, you know what was coming next. If something smells edible or potable (wintergreen lozenges, birch beer) I just have to taste it! My friend Gina knew it too, which is why she had the camera ready. Of course, she might have had a little heads up when I puckered up to give it a kiss first…

Birch bark smell wintergreen
I couldn’t decide if I was most in love with the birch tree, the tumbling Slippery Rock Creek nearby, McConnells Mill or my friends. I decided it didn’t matter but I was going to kiss the twig anyway.

I did so timidly, wondering if this is how those early cows first tried out their deadly white snakeroot, responsible for so many early pioneer fatalities from milk sickness. (If you’re thinking wtf? you just need to go read my earlier post about Tom Hanks and my Milk Sickness Metaphor).Birch bark smell wintergreen

Was I going to be a Darwinian failure too? Surely if birch beer comes from the bark of birch trees, I would be safe with just one lick. I wasn’t in the Amazon after all. It wasn’t like I had just discovered some pretty little tree frog and wanted to give it a kiss.

So I licked it. And…

Birch bark smell wintergreen


I didn’t taste birch or wintergreen.

Tasted like stick.


Birch bark smell wintergreen

So I went back to sniffing it, deep and long. It was wonderful. And like the concolor we put up for Christmas, the smell of yellow birch bark is now imprinted in my sense memory along with the rest of that beautiful walk with our friends at McConnell’s Mill.

Birch bark smell wintergreen
It’s hard to imagine anyone adoring my friend Gina as much as I do, but if anyone can, I suppose it’s Kurtis. 🙂

What else have I been missing while parked on my couch?

I hope your Sunday is as beautiful as the one we’re having here in western PA today.

Birch bark smell wintergreen
Gina, Kurt, Kurtis and Traveling Marla on our McConnells Mill hike.

Go outside and lick a tree!

Love, Marla

Birch bark smell wintergreen
Gina borrowed my camera to go take this beautiful photo of Slippery Rock Creek. She has such an eye!

9 thoughts on “Have You Ever Licked a Birch Tree?

  1. Oh Marla… It’s hard to imagine anyone adoring YOU more than MEEEEE! Come back soon, please! There is so much more to explore, and I miss you already.

    1. Ha. I thought you would like that, mountain man. I’ve never kayak’d – only done the inflatable duckies. Those fellas were having a lot of fun out in the water that day!

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