In German Jewish communities of the 18th and 19th centuries, seven weeks after Passover, Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, was observed to commemorate the bearing of the season’s first grains to the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews in these modern German lands decorated their front doors and houses with small birch branches and flowers in wreaths to signify the early summer harvest festival.
From: Portraits of Our Past: Jews of the German Countryside by Emily C. Rose 2017
Birch is also a significant ingredient in what many consider to be the national drink of Latvia: Riga Black Balsam. The recipe was created in 1752 by Abraham Kunze, an apothecary living in that city. Legend has it that Catherine the Great became ill while traveling in Riga and after her personal doctor failed to cure her, Kunze’s formulation restored her to health. You may recognize the other herbs from the original recipe. They were well known by folk healers in Ashkenazi communities throughout Eastern Europe and include: bilberries or blueberries, raspberries, gentian, peppermint, wormwood, ginger, valerian, calamus, lemon balm, linden, oak, St. John’s Wort, buckbean, black pepper, citrus and nutmeg.
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Photo credit: Nathanael Siegel
Yiddish Names for Birch are from: Plant Names in Yiddish by Mordkhe Schaechter