The name of the birch tree is ancient and is believed to derive from the Sanskrit bhurga, “a tree whose bark is used for writing upon”, and indeed it’s bark can be separated into several fine layers and was used in place of parchment, particularly in medieval Russia.
In Celtic culture, notably in the Hebrides, birch was traditionally synonymous with birth, love and purity, and birch was often placed over cradles to keep the young safe from evil spirits. In legend birch’s qualities of youthfulness and love suggest that it was associated with the Celtic god of love, Aonghus Og. Aonghus was the mac óg – “the young son” – whose beauty was so great that four of his kisses were said to follow him around in the form of birds; and it was Aongus who made a bed for the great warrior Diarmaid and his lover Gráinne out of soft rushes and the leaves of the downy birch – a legend which is said to have inspired the medieval classic Tristan and Isolde.
Also associated with rebirth, perhaps it’s no coincidence that birch was the traditional material for brooms – as we know, “a new broom sweeps clean”.