BIRCH - HERBAL OVERVIEW
Family Betulaceae - Betula Pendula / Betula Alba / Betula Pubescens / Betula ssp.
Silver Birch, Common Birch, Paper Birch, White Birch, White Birch Bark, Black Birch, Silver Birch, Sweet Birch, Canoe Birch, Lady of the Woods
Birches are generally divided into 3 types: white, black, and yellow.
Betulaceae - Also known as Bereza (Spanish), Birke (German), Bouleau (French), European White Birch (Betula alba)
The name "Birch" is possibly derived from the Sanskrit "bhurga" meaning "bark used for writing". Another possible source is the Latin "batuere" meaning "to strike", in reference to birch rods used for punishment.
Earth religions consider groves of birch to be sacred. Sacred also to the peoples of Northern Europe, and in the Norse tradition, when a birch tree is struck by lightening (by the hand of the god Thor), the bark is said to be empowered with magic. Witches were said to have ridden broomsticks of birch on Walpurgis night. Was mentioned in a Finnish epic (Kalevala) to be a holy tree. Astrologically ruled by Venus.
The bark contains about 3 percent tannic acid, volatile oil (including betulin), resin, flavonoids, bitter principle and betuls camphor. The leaves contain betulorentic acid. Birch tar has a high percentage of methyl salicylate as well as creosol and guaiacol.
The common birch (B. alba) is a tree native to northern Europe from Italy to Iceland and northern Asia. The young branches are usually red or orange-brown and the trunks white. The wood is soft and not durable, but less expensive than hardwoods. The tree yields oil of Birch Tar (also known historically as Oleum Rusci, Oleum Betulinum, or Dagget) which was used in the processing of "Russia Leather", a type of leather used to bind books and which was less apt to become moldy; oil also said to repel insects; has been used in photography. This thick, tarry liquid possesses a sharp balsamic odor. Birch Tar bears similarities to oil of Wintergreen and in fact is often called Oil of Wintergreen; it dissolves completely in Turpentine oil. It is produced in large quantities in Russia and Siberia (possibly B. pendula as well). The rectified oil (once known as Oleum Rusci Rectificatum) was sometimes substituted for oil of Cade.
A related species is the American White Birch, also known as Broom Birch, Gray Birch, Old Field Birch, Pin Birch, Poverty Birch (Betula populifolia syn Betula var populifolia). It is Small tree, native to North America from the coast of eastern Canada to Ottawa, south to Delaware, Pennsylvannia, Ohio and northwest Indiana, with smooth, pure white bark which is difficult to separate into thin sheets. Leaves have two sets of teeth, are bright green above and paler beneath. Catkins appear on stalks 3/4 to 1.5 inch. It is found in woods and old fields. Other species include Downy Birch (Betula pubescens), an Asian birch used in the same manner as B. pendula. The Smooth Dwarf Birch (Betula nana), whose leaves produce a yellow dye said to be superior to European White Birch and the seeds provide food for some birds. It is also used for Moxa and the Fragrant Sumac (Betula trophylla syn Rhus Aromatica).
Medicinally it is a diuretic, anti-rheumatic, stimulant, astringent, anthelmintic, cholagogue, diaphoretic. Leaves have been used for cystitis and urinary tract infections. Young shoots and leaves contain an acidic, resinous property and have been combined with other substances to use as a tonic laxative. Leaves were used as a tea for gout, rheumatism, dropsy, and kidney stones; a decoction was used as a wash for boils and skin eruptions, or, the tea was taken internally and the oil applied externally. The inner bark was once used for intermittant fever. Has been used in the past for cardial dropsy. Once used to treat intestinal worms. The yellow, fungus-like excrescense of the wood were used as a Moxa. The young leaves have been used in cheese.
Other uses include the wood has been used for building boats, buildings, paneling, bobbins for thread mills, herring-barrel staves and broom handles. The twigs were once used for thatching roofs and wattles. Birch charcoal once used for gunpowder. The white bark can be separated into thin layers and have been used as a substitute for oiled paper. Tapping the tree produces a thin, sweet sap from which beer, wine and vinegar have been made. The white, rotten wood was boiled in a decoction of Ledum latifolium (Labrador tea) for an hour, then dried and rubbed to a power which was used for chafed skin; the skin was washed with cold water, then the powder was sprinkled on; was also used as a baby powder.
Betulaceae - Also known as Lady of the Woods (Coleridge), Warty Birch, Weeping Birch (Betula pendula-Roth syn Betula verrucosa-Erhart). Cultivated varieties are B. pendula 'Tristis' and B. pendula 'Youngii'.
The silver birch was at one time regarded as a symbol of spring - a tree of life and fertility. Folklore has honored it as a protector against demons and witches. The graceful, ornamental birch tree, with its distinctive bark, provides beauty, important medicinal benefits, and delicious birch beer. The birch tree's leaves, bark and sap have long been used to fight illnesses such as bladder and urinary tract infections, kidney stones, eczema, and is said to be wonderful for alleviating the pains of rheumatism, arthritis and gout. The birch bark is used to reduce fever, banish headache, eliminate excess water and thin the blood.
This tree is also referred to as European White Birch. A tree growing 40 to 90 feet with an average life span of 50 years, it is native to Europe, but found throughout the northern hemisphere being more prevalent along the east coast of the United States, Canada, and northern Europe, with silver-white, thin bark which peels off in layers and contains Betulin, which reflects light and gives the tree a silvery appearance. Twigs dotted with whitish warts. Leaves alternate, glabrous, broadly ovate, tapering a fine point, double toothed, smooth and shiny, but with minute glandular dots when young. Flowers tiny with no petals borne on male and female catkins. Male catkins 3/4 to 2 inches long, pendulous, develop from buds at tips of twigs; female catkins, more cone shaped, appear further back along the twig on short stalks. Fruit is a tiny winged nut which ripens from the female catkins.
B. lenta: Sweet Birch, also known as Cherry Birch, Black Birch, Spice Birch, Mahogany Birch, or Mountain Mahogany is an American variety, with richly marked wood suitable for the use of cabinet and pianoforte makers. The liquor is used in Kamschatka without previous fermentation. The cambium, or the layer between the wood and the bast, is eaten in the spring, cut into strips like vermicelli, and the bark is stimulant, diaphoretic, and astringent, in a warm infusion. In decoction or syrup it forms an excellent tonic for dysentery, and is said to be useful in gravel and female obstructions. Sweet Birch Oil contains methyl salicylate. Bark contains betulin, betulinic acid (antiviral activity) and salicylates (approved by the FDA for treatment of warts. Plant parts also contain potassium. Tree native to the eastern United States, resembling the cherry tree, and found growing in rich, moist woods from Maine to Georgia and west to Michigan. Bark (included in the Canadian list of medicinal plants 1868) is brown when young, dark gray to black with horizontal stripes as it ages. Leaves are ovate, pointed, alternate in pairs with fine serrations and possessing 9 to 12 pairs of side veins. Male flowers grown on 3 inch long catkins in fall, female on 1 inch catkins in spring; catkins being almost stemless with smooth scales. The source of Sweet Birch Oil which is used in place of Wintergreen Oil in external applications. The commercial production of the oil takes place from late May to September when the bark and twigs are collected, chopped, and placed in retorts with water where a low fire keeps them warm overnight; the oil is distilled the next day. Commercial distilleries prefer young trees or shoots 4 or 5 years old grown from stumps. Twigs have a strong wintergreen flavor when crushed. It prefers a moist condition with a soil pH 5.0 to 6.0. Parts used are small twigs, inner bark, leaves, distilled oil. Medicinally it is used as a stimulant, aromatic, diaphoretic, astringent, anthelmintic, alterative, pectoral, depurative, antiscrofulous. It has been used in decoction and syrup form as a tonic for dysentery, diarrhea, and infant cholera; a tea was made from a syrup of the bark and peach stones and used as a restorative after dysentery. Sweet Birch Oil has been used externally to treat arthritis and rheumatism. Native Americans made a tea from the leaves to treat headache and rheumatic/arthritic conditions. Has been used by the Osage for colds, coughs, scrofula, and sores. For warts a piece of bark was moistened and placed directly against the wart; tea was also rubbed into warts. Tea has been used as a mouth wash for cankers. For culinary purposes, the oil is used as a flavoring agent, especially for candy. Beer has been made from the decoction, or the sap; the boiled sap was used like honey or maple syrup. Other uses for sweet birch include the wood has been for cabinet making and was once used for pianofortes; also for furniture, wooden spoons, tool handles and broomsticks. The cambium has been know to be eaten in spring after being cut into spaghetti-like strips. Sweet Birch Oil is used in dental products and in perfumery. Twigs were once chewed to clean teeth. Oil has been used to preserve furs from insect damage.
B. papyrifera syn B. papyracea: Paper Birch, also known as White Birch, is largely used for canoe-making in America. It contains methyl salicylate (counter irritant, analgesic) which is absorbed through the skin, making it useful as a poultice for pain. Today, synthetic methyl salicylate is combined with menthol in creams and liniments to relieve musculoskeletal pain. The paper birch is a small tree of North America found in Canada to the Yukon, Alaska, south to Washington and east to New York. Bark is white with black markings and is easily pulled off in large pieces. Leaves are 2 to 4 inches long with single teeth and hairy beneath at the midrib where it's joined by the veins. Catkins are 1/2 to 3 inches long and appear on stalks. It is used by Native Americans to make canoes, a lightweight means of transportation, but requiring a good deal of skill due to the tendency of these watercraft to easily overturn. In 1964, bark was found in archeological digs at 27 locations throughout the Juntunen site on Bois Blanc Island in Michigan. It needs moderately fertile, moist, but well-draining soil; part to full sun. Medicinally it was used as a diuretic, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory. In North America a tea was brewed for fevers, kidney stones and cramps from excess gas. Poultices of boiled bark were used to heal wounds, burns and bruises. It was used to expel worms and treat gout. The oil has been used externally on boils and sores. Sap and leaves have been used as a blood purifier. Birch enemas were employed by the Chippewa for diarrhea and constipation. A poultice of the leaves and bark was used to treat wounds and skin irritations. In New England, birch "gum" was used for sciatica. The bark was used as splints by heating the bark, then shaping it. The Ojibwe combined the root bark with maple sugar to make a syrup for stomach cramping. Birch bark was also bound around the head for headache. Canoes and wigwams were made from the bark. In spring, sections measuring 10 to 12 feet long and 2 feet 9 inches wide were cut from large, smooth trunks with a wooden wedge; the fibrous roots of white spruce were soaked in water to make them flexible, then used to attach the sheets to each other; the seams of the canoe were caulked with resin from the balsam fir, creating light weight water transportation. The inside of the bark (closest to tree) was placed on the outside of the canoe. Native Americans fashioned cups and dishes from the bark as well as baskets and even encased their dead in it. Native Americans on the move in spring tapped the tree and used the liquid in place of water. Used by the Huron to make chests to store corn. Many Native American tribes used rolled tubes of bark as torches. Thin strips of bark were placed outside of a wigwam to chase away the spirits of the newly dead. Used to make paper and whipping rods. Early North American settlers used the tea as a gargle and mouthwash to freshen breath. The Ojibwe boiled the innermost bark to produce a reddish dye.
BIRCH BEER: Place 4 quarts finely cut twigs (or inner bark) in a 5 gallon crock; add 4 gallons water (or birch sap) and bring to a boil; add 1 gallon honey, then remove from heat; strain when cool; put liquid back in crock and place 1 yeast cake on a piece of toast to float stop the liquid; cover with cheesecloth and allow mixture to ferment for one week or until it stops "working"; bottle the beer and store in a cool, dry place; depending on storage conditions, can last from a few months to a year.
COSMETIC: An infusion of birch is added to bath water as a skin tonic. An infusion is also used as a skin lotion. A decoction of the bark has also been used as a skin lotion. A few drops Oil of Birch can be added to bath water or to home-made preparations such as aftershave and massage oil.
B. nana - B. pumila var glandulifera syn B. nana var glandulifera, B. glandulosa var glandulifera, B. terra-novae, B. crenata: Dwarf Birch, also known as Bog Birch, Low Birch, Swamp Birch and Smooth Dwarf Birch, rarely grows above 3 feet in height. It is a multi-stemmed shrub found throughout Canada and the northern United States in bogs and wooded swamp. The young leaves and branches are dotted with resin producing glands; leaves possess 3 to 6 pairs of veins. The nut is much larger than its wings. The leaves are said to dye a better yellow than the Common Birch; the seeds are a principal food of ptarmigan in Lapland; Moxa is prepared from it and regarded as an effective remedy in all painful diseases. Pillager Ojibwe placed the tiny female catkins on a plate of coals as an incense to cure congestion. They also prepared a tea from the cones which was taken by women during their menses as well as after childbirth. It was used by the natives around Hudson Bay as a matting between the bedding and the snow. The twigs were used as the rib frame for baskets to be woven with sweet grass.
B. alleghaniensis syn B. lutea: Yellow Birch, also known as Swamp Birch. A medium sized tree found in moist woods from eastern Canada to the northwest shores of Lake Superior, and south to northeast Iowa, northern Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, northern Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Delaware with an irregular crown and yellow or grayish bark which separates into thin layers. Twigs taste of wintergreen. Leaves have doubly serrate margins with soft hairs on the veins beneath. Catkins stalkless, or with a negligible stalk, and hairy. Medicinally, the Ojibwe scraped the inner bark to make a decoction and mixed it with maple sugar as a diuretic. The Potawatomi extracted the oil and used it to hide the flavor of nastier medications. The Ojibwe tapped the tree for sap and added maple sap to use as a beverage drink. Was used by the Potawatomi in the sapling stage for wigwam poles which were set in a circle, then bent down at the tip to meet and overlap the center where they were tied together for a framework.
B. nigra: River Birch, also known as Black Birch, Red Birch, Water Birch. A slender tree found from New Hampshire to Florida east of the Appalachians, from southern Ohio to southern Michigan, southeast Minnesota, eastern Kansas, and Texas in swampy areas. Grows to 30 feet with reddish or greenish-brown bark which peels in thin layers. Young shoots and undersides of leaves are hairy; leaves have a double row of teeth. The twigs and leaves are NOT aromatic. Catkins appear on very short stalks. It needs a moist location with soil pH 5.0 to 6.0. It was used by Delaware Indians who pounded the bark finely to use as a medicine. The bark was used in decoction by the Chippewa for stomach pain.
BIRCH PLANT DESCRIPTION
The birch is a member of the Betulaceae, or birch, family. It grows to a height of 100 feet and is recognized by its beautiful grayish white, peeling bark and dark cracks at the base. Silver Birch is distinctive with its silvery-white bark that peels off in layers and slender drooping branches. The leaves are dark green on the upper side and pale green underneath, tapering to a fine point and are toothed. This hardy ornamental will grow in well-drained soil in sun or shade.
The sap of the tree is used medicinally and is obtained by boring holes in the trunk and tapping the flow through a pipe into a vessel. To preserve the sap, it should be mixed with alcohol. The leaves, buds, and bark contain volatile oils and resins and have many of the same qualities as wintergreen in that it has anti-inflammatory, diuretic, digestive, and antiseptic, properties. The bark and the leaves have an organic, bitter taste and act as an astringent. The silver birch is usually found in the thickets and in dry deciduous and evergreen forests of North America, Europe and the temperate zones of northern Asia. In the United States, branches and bark of the birch tree are used medicinally - primarily to make teas through dry distillation.
BIRCH CONSTITUENTS / COMPONENTS
Birch Trees are highly regarded as medicinal plants in Russia and Siberia, especially for treating arthritis, and there are a number of different varieties of Birch that are used for the same medicinal applications, many for pain, wounds, and skin complaints. They are also of great commercial value in the perfume industry, dental products, paper making, cotton reels, toys, broom making and fish smoking. The bark is used in the tanning industry, imparting a delicate fragrance to leather. An old use for the Birch was as a rod or "switch" that was used to flog offenders.
Some constituents in Birch Bark include saponins, tannin, betulin, betulinic acid, flavonoids (hyperoside, luteolin and quercetin) and glycosides (methyl salicylate). Birch bark is an astringent, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, bitter action, tonic, and mild laxative. It Stimulates bile production and is slightly antiseptic; has a mild sedative effect.
Birch Bark is a wonderful pain reliever and anti-inflammatory. A glycoside in the Birch Bark decomposes to produce methyl salicylate, which is the natural forerunner of synthetic aspirin, and has been invaluable for relieving headaches and general, overall pain. Its history of pain relief goes back for centuries, as American Indians used birch bark to relieve and alleviate the inflammation of rheumatism, arthritis and gout and helps to ease the pain of swollen and painful joints. Birch poultices, salves, and liniments used topically to provide relief and heal burns, wounds, bruises, eczema, skin eruptions (boils and sores), and psoriasis. Used in its aspirin form, Birch Bark is a blood thinner and is included in many heart-ailment regimens.
Birch Bark is considered an effective diuretic that promotes urine flow and has been used to rid the body of excess water and ease bloating. It is said to be helpful in combating urinary tract infections, cystitis, prostatitis and kidney stones. In Europe, an infusion has been taken 3 times daily for kidney problems. As a diaphoretic, it produces perspiration (cleansing toxins from the body through the skin) and, as such, helps to cool the body and reduce fever, making it helpful for easing the discomforts of colds and flu Symptoms.
Two compounds in Birch Bark, betulinic acid and betulin, have shown significant antiviral activity. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the salicylates in Birch Bark for the treatment of warts.
Birch Bark has been used as a mild sedative and that has helped to relieve temporary insomnia.
Birch charcoal has been used as an absorbent in poisoning, also for bloating due to intestinal gas.
Birch also occupies an important culinary place and has been included in salads, condiments and the ever-popular Birch Beer. Fermented sap has been used to make beer, wine, spirits, and vinegar.
Bark has been used in commercial tanning and gives leather a pleasing fragrance. Birch bark only contains about 3 percent tannic acid, but is extensively used for tanning, wherever there are large birch forests, throughout Northern Europe. As it gives a pale color to the skin, it is used for the preliminary and the final stages of tanning. It contains betulin and betuls camphor.
Birch Bark was also vital in the making of Native American canoes. Wood has been used to make charcoal, paper, cotton reels, toys, and to smoke fish. Twigs have been used a brooms as well as making birch rods to flog offenders.
Birch Bark produces Birch oil, which is an effective remedy for certain skin conditions and has been used to treat skin diseases; externally, Birch Tar oil has been used for psoriasis and eczema. Birch tar has been used to treat scabies. It is an ingredient in several European ointments and liniments.
By destructive distillation, the white epidermis of the bark yields an empyreumatic oil, known variously in commerce as oil of Birch Tar, Oleum Rusci, Oleum Betulinum or Dagget. This is a thick, bituminous, brownish-black liquid, with a pungent, balsamic odor. It contains a high percentage of methyl salicylate, and also creosol and guaiacol. The Rectified Oil (Oleum Rusci Rectificatum) is sometimes substituted for oil of Cade.
Birch Tar oil is almost identical with Wintergreen oil. It is not completely soluble in 95 percent acetic acid, nor in aniline, but Turpentine oil dissolves it completely.
The oil has been used mainly for eczema, but has also been used to treat gonorrhea and has been used experimentally in the treatment of melanoma and said to have some effect (no empirical evidence has been presented).
The leaves contain strongly diuretic flavonoids, anti-inflammatory tannins and saponins, as well as a great deal of vitamin C. The leaves contain betulorentic acid. The plant juice contains sugar, phytohormones and protein; the bark contains resins and the camphor-like compound betulin.
Birch leaves have diuretic properties because of the flavonoids they contain; they increase urinary excretion without irritating the kidneys. A tea made from the leaves can be used as a flushing agent for urinary tract infections and to help prevent kidney stones. Leaves have been used for fever. Traditional medicine uses preparations of birch teas, and extract of the leaves, buds and bark, applied externally to wounds, for treating gout, ulcerated wounds, abscesses, boils, eczema as well as other skin conditions. It was also used for albuminaria and rheumatic swellings (rheumatism).
Hair rinses with birch as an added ingredient are thought to promote growth. Sap is said to promote hair growth in cases of falling hair (sap/alcohol mixture is added to an equal amount of water and massaged into the scalp). The leaf tea is also used as a wash for dandruff and falling hair.
Also, a poultice of the leaves have been used on inflamed joints as well as the sap. In Russia, the buds are gathered and preserved in Vodka to treat inflammatory conditions, but also used for colds, pain, stomach ulcers, loss of vitality, to purify blood, to stimulate the appetite, for gall bladder problems, and for kidney and bladder gravel.
The Russians used birch as part of therapeutic bathing. In a cloth bag, 2 to 5 pounds of leaves were placed and set into a container filled with enough water to cover; bag was simmered for 1 to 2 hours, then removed; the decoction was poured into the bath with enough water to reach the waist when seated; shoulders, neck, back, face and arms (upper body) was doused for as long as desired or until the bather no longer felt comfortable; this bath was used once or twice a week for a period of 30 weeks to revitalize the body and aid it in healing from external and internal problems.
The sap prepared as a tea was used as a tonic for anemia, gout, scurvy and rheumatism. Due to bitter action has been used for digestive and liver complaints.
The name is a very ancient one, probably derived from the Sanskrit bhurga, "a tree whose bark is used for writing upon." From its uses in boat-building and roofing it is also connected with the A.S. beorgan, "to protect or shelter." Coleridge speaks of it as the "Lady of the Woods." It is remarkable for its lightness, grace, and elegance, and after rain it has a fragrant odor.
The young branches are of a rich red brown or orange brown, and the trunks usually white, especially in the second species of B. alba, B. verrucosa. B. pubescens is darker, and has downy instead of warted twigs.
The wood is soft and not very durable, but being cheap, and the tree being able to thrive in any situation and soil, growing all over Europe, is used for many humble purposes, such as bobbins for thread mills, herring-barrel staves, broom handles, and various fancy articles. In country districts the Birch has very many uses, the lighter twigs being employed for thatching and wattles. The twigs are also used in broom making and in the manufacture of cloth. The tree has also been one of the sources from which asphyxiating gases have been manufactured, and its charcoal is much used for gunpowder.
The white epidermis of the bark is separable into thin layers, which may be employed as a substitute for oiled paper and applied to various economical uses. It yields oil of Birch Tar, and the peculiar, well-known odor of Russia leather is due to the use of this oil in the process of dressing. It likewise imparts durability to leather, and it is owing to its presence that books bound in Russia leather are not liable to become moldy. The production of Birch Tar oil is a Russian industry of considerable importance. It is also distilled in Holland and Germany, but these oils are appreciably different from the Russian oil. It has the property of keeping away insects and preventing gnat bites when smeared on the hands. It is likewise employed in photography.
When the stem of the tree is wounded, a saccharine juice flows out which is susceptible, with yeast, of vinous fermentation. A beer, wine, spirit and vinegar are prepared from it in some parts of Europe. Birch Wine, concocted from this thin, sugary sap of the tree, collected from incisions made in the trees in March, honey, cloves and lemon peel being added and then the whole fermented with yeast, makes a very pleasant cordial, formerly much appreciated. From 16 to 18 gallons of sap may be drawn from one large tree, and a moderate tapping does no harm.
Collect ripe, brown woody catkins in a bag to keep from losing any seeds, then spread them out to dry for several weeks; sow seed in late summer or fall, or as soon as possible after collecting and drying; seeds can also be sown in spring but require 4 to 8 weeks of stratification.
Indoors: Sow in sand with peat added, cover lightly, or press into surface of soil; cover with plastic or glass until seedlings emerge.
Outside: Rake seeds lightly into soil, then cover with boughs or brush to provide some shade and protection during the first few months of the first summer. Germination is poor, so sow thickly.
The silver birch is propagated by ripe seed sown in a mixture of peat and sand in spring or summer; germination is erratic and seeds does not store well. It is a hardy tree that tolerates some degree of dryness better than related species. Prefers well-drained soil in sun or shade, preferably sandy soil with a pH below 6.5 and is not at its best in shallow, alkaline soil. Has a shallow root system and should be planted at least 18 feet away from any building. It is susceptible to bronze birch borer; leaves susceptible to aphids, caterpillars, sawfly larvae, miners, and rust; bark susceptible to birch polypore fungi, witch's broom and Armillaria root rot.
The parts used are young leaves, bark, sap, leaf buds, Harvesting includes the buds in March; leaves April and May; sap and bark in spring. Leaves, buds and bark are dried and stored for use; the tapped sap is preserved in an alcohol-water mixture (1 part vodka to 3 parts sap). Leaf buds and young leaves are used for infusions, poultices, and tinctures. The bark is stripped from cut timber which is harvested for the distillation of its oil; the sap is tapped from mature trees during early spring.
Dry parts at room temperature with no auxiliary heat in order to preserve the delicate oil.
Silver Birch oil can be used in treating arthritis and neuralgic conditions. This tree is also used for treating kidney and urinary conditions, including kidney stones. It also stimulates the flow of bile. Silver Birch has been used for edema when accompanied by renal and cardiac problems. Externally, the oil works for soothing the pain of arthritis and for treating skin problems.
Used as an infusion, decoction, extract and tincture. For chronic or severe skin problems, a decoction of birch bark is sometimes used as a wash or bath additive. The inner bark contains an oil which is sometimes substituted for wintergreen in liniment.
According to Grieve's classic "A Modern Herbal", various parts of the tree have been applied to medicinal uses. The young shoots and leaves secrete a resinous substance having acid properties, which, combined with alkalies, is said to be a tonic laxative. The leaves have a peculiar, aromatic, agreeable odor and a bitter taste, and have been employed in the form of infusion (Birch Tea) in gout, rheumatism and dropsy, and recommended as a reliable solvent of stone in the kidneys. With the bark they resolve and resist putrefaction. A decoction of them is good for bathing skin eruptions, and is serviceable in dropsy. The oil is astringent, and is mainly employed for its curative effects in skin affections, especially eczema, but is also used for some Internal maladies. The inner bark is bitter and astringent, and has been used in intermittent fevers. The vernal sap is diuretic.
According to American Materia Medica, 1919 (Ellingwood), the bark contains betulin, a resinous substance, and betulalbin. The bark of the black variety contains glucosides, gaultherin, and an essential oil. Winternitz and Jenicke both recommend the remedy for its diuretic effect and for its influence in dissolving kidney stones. Winternitz made an infusion of the dried leaves in the preparation of one part to six or eight parts of water by weight. Of this he would give from four to six ounces at a dose for albuminuria. He claimed that albumin epithelial scales and casts would disappear entirely. The quantity of the urine would increase to from six to ten times its bulk. Jenicke used it in nephrolithiasis. In one case, a stone had been discovered in the kidney by an X-ray. This tea reduced the quantity of albumin, relieved the pain, improved the general health of the patient so that in twelve weeks' time he was entirely cured, the urine being normal. There has been passed from time to time with the water tiny pieces of stone from the kidney. There have been reports from a number of writers in this country concerning the action of this remedy in a similar manner, and all confirm the observations made by the German writers.
Also known as Betula spp, Betula, Betulae Folium, Betula Pendula, Betula Verrucosa, Downy Birch, Silver Birch, White Birch.
Introduction: The birch is a soft-wood tree native to cold, northerly climates. The name is a very ancient one, probably derived from the Sanskrit bhurga, meaning "tree whose bark is written upon." Birch bark easily peels from the tree, but is slow to decay. Removing the bark from a living tree can threaten the life of the tree if the dark inner bark is damaged, but due to the remarkable preservative properties of birch bark, it can easily be harvested from dead or fallen trees, where it still retains its wonderful properties. Birch bark is strong and water resistant, almost like cardboard in its pliability, and can therefore be bent, cut, and even sewn. Native Americans were known to use the bark tea for fevers, stomachache, lung ailments, and fever. They also used it in many facets of their everyday lives as a material for canoes, wigwams, scrolls, ritual art, musical instruments, containers for food, and even clothing. Birch bark has been quite valuable since pre-historic times for its applications in building and crafting.
Constituents: Betulinic acid, betulin, methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate is a substance that may have effects similar to aspirin.
Parts Used: Dried, powdered bark.
Typical Preparations: Tea, poultices. Native Americans made a tea with silver birch bark that was used for treating lower back pain.
Summary: Antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory, birch bark has been used to treat skin outbreaks for centuries. Recent investigations suggest that the chemical betulin found in the bark may be useful in the treatment of melanoma (although not as the sole treatment for the condition). Teas of the bark may also relieve joint pain associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout.
Precautions: Birch is diuretic. Do not take birch bark or leaf internally if you have difficulty going to the bathroom.
Also known as Betula alba, Betula pendula, and Betula spp.
Introduction: The birch is a soft-wooded tree native to northerly climates. The leaves have a pleasant odor but a bitter taste. The leaves are wedged shaped and have a pleasant odor but a bitter taste. Birch trees have a strong connection with the celebration of Beltane. This may be due to the fact that birch trees are among the first to come into leaf, and therefore would have made a obvious choice as a representation of spring. Samuel Coleridge called them the "Lady of the woods", but this may have been an existing folk term of the time.
Constituents: Hyperoside, quercetin.
Parts Used: Dried leaf.
Typical Preparations: Tea or tincture. Dr. Jim Duke advises that you can make your own tincture by putting two teaspoons of bark in a cup of vodka and letting it steep for a couple of days.
Summary: Birch leaf teas relieve bladder and kidney infections by acting as a diuretic, effectively flushing the infectious microorganisms out of the body. For best results, you should also take unsweetened cranberry or blueberry juice.
Precautions: Do not use birch leaf if you are already taking another diuretic, especially if you are taking Lasix (furosemide).
BIRCH DOSAGE INFORMATION
Birch comes in various forms and is an ingredient in other products. For best results, it is best to read and follow product label directions on commercial preparations.
BARK: 30 to 60 grains
INFUSION: 1 teaspoon leaves or bark to 1 cup boiling water, steeped 10 minutes, 3 times daily. Add a pinch of baking soda to each pint of water to facilitate the release of the active principles. Common Birch: 1/2 teaspoon dried herb (inner bark or leaf buds) steeped in 1 cup water, taken up to 3 times daily. Alternate Method: 1.5 cups thin bark shavings simmered 4 to 5 minutes in 1 quart water; steeped 40 minutes, then strained.
DECOCTION: 1 teaspoon inner bark (or leaves) simmered in 1 cup water; 1 to 2 cups taken daily. Common Birch: 1 tablespoon fresh leaves boiled briefly in 1/2 cup water; let stand 2 hours; add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda; 1 cup daily.
TINCTURE: 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon, 3 times daily.
EXTRACT OF LEAVES: 25 to 30 grains daily.
PRESERVED SAP (In 20% Alcohol): 1/2 to 1 teaspoon three times daily.
Various parts of the tree have been applied to medicinal uses. The young shoots and leaves secrete a resinous substance having acid properties, which, combined with alkalies, is said to be a tonic laxative. The leaves have a peculiar, aromatic, agreeable odor and a bitter taste, and have been employed in the form of infusion (birch tea) in gout, rheumatism and dropsy, and recommended as a reliable solvent of stone in the kidneys. With the bark they resolve and resist putrefaction. A decoction of them is good for bathing skin eruptions, and is serviceable in dropsy. The oil is astringent, and is mainly employed for its curative effects in skin affections, especially eczema, but is also used for some Internal maladies. The inner bark is bitter and astringent, and has been used in intermittent fevers. The vernal sap is diuretic. Moxa is made from the yellow, fungous excrescences of the wood, which sometimes swell out from the fissures.
METHODS OF ADMINISTRATION Tea Infusion Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons dried birch leaves; steep for 10 to 15 minutes, and then strain. Drink 1 cup up to 3 times daily. Tea Decoction Heat 1 cup of water to boiling; reduce it to a gentle simmer and then add 1 tablespoon of birch bark. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes and strain. Drink 1 to 2 cups of the tea daily. The decoction can also serve as the basis for a skin lotion that can be applied to warts or areas with psoriasis or eczema. Tincture Pour 1 cup of vodka over 2 teaspoons of birch bark in a clean glass jar. Cover. Shake. Steep for 3 to 4 days. Take 1 teaspoon of the tincture 2 to 3 times a day. The dosage of alcoholic extract (tincture) of the leaves is 25 to 30 grains daily (approximately 1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon of tincture daily). Extract Many teas for the bladder and kidney contain a powder of birch tea or dried extract of birch bark or leaves. These are sometimes blended with other medicinal plants that have similar diuretic and disinfectant effects.
BIRCH SAFETY & INTERACTION INFORMATION
Silver Birch is generally regarded as safe for use as topically. There are no known safety issues associated with silver birch when taken internally; however, it is best to consult with a health care provider for use of this oil internally. Silver birch is not to be used with irrigation therapy, nor when edema is present, or in cases with reduced heart or kidney function. When using to flush out the urinary system, a minimum of 2 quarts liquid per day must be taken. If you are pregnant, nursing, epileptic, have liver or kidney damage, or have cancer, do not use silver birch without the guidance of a qualified health care provider.
Birch tar is currently believed to be potentially carcinogenic. If you are allergic to aspirin, do not use any birch supplements or products.
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