Silver Birch

Betula pendula

Herbs gallery - Silver Birch

Common names

  • Paper Birch
  • Silver Birch

Silver birch (botanical name Betula pendula) is a familiar member of trees belonging to the catkin family, identified especially for the tree's silvery-white bark that peels off in layers together with its thin wilting branches. The leaves of silver birch are generally oval-shaped, getting thinner to a fine point, jagged, although having an assortment of forms more or less this pattern. The leaves are even and glossy, but have diminutive glandular spots when they are tender. The male catkins of silver birch are sagging, about 2 cm to 5 cm in length, while the female catkins appear on small stalks, but only grow up to a maximum length of 15 cm. It may be mentioned here that the Betula lenta of North America is therapeutically close to B. pendula.

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It has been found that the combination of resins and volatile oils present in silver birch is related to the oil of Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen) in several manners and is employed in the form of an anti-inflammatory, scientifically as well as naturally to treat arthritis and also neuralgic conditions. Nevertheless, while majority of the commercially available wintergreen oil currently is actually almost totally acquired by distilling the bark of the North American birch (botanical name B. lenta), this particular product actually is not be present in the original plant, but is produced owing to interaction between the constituents of the plant during the distillation process. Hence, there is no proof whatsoever of the existence of salicylates, which are very conspicous in the oil, especially in the freshly obtained sample. Flavonoids and saponins enhance the action of this oil in a distinct diuretic as well as urinary antiseptic effect as well as with bitter and different additional digestive stimulus.

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Parts used

The young leaves, the bark, the sap and the leaf buds.

Uses

Several parts of silver birch are useable therapeutically and all of them have the same action. In fact, most of their impact is intensified on the urinary system and the kidneys and they are especially pertinent for treating kidney stones as well as other problems of the urinary tract. Nevertheless, silver birch also possesses other therapeutic actions. For instance, it stimulates the flow of bile, is also somewhat sedative, and distinctively anti-inflammatory. Therefore, generally, silver birch is found to be helpful in treating several complicated inflammatory conditions, including arthritis, rheumatism as well as dermatological complaints.

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Birch products may also be employed internally as well as externally to treat arthritis. In fact, the product applied externally is distilled to prepare oil similar to a lotion prepared from wintergreen. One indication of an internal outcome is the diaphoretic (inducing perspiration) attribute of birch - in fact, when taken in large doses, this herb promotes sweating. This shows a specific application in such cases of severe rheumatic symptoms that are accompanied by fever or serum ailment. Together with the superior washing out of the tissues that this action hints at, it also helps in lessening oedematous conditions (excessive accumulation of fluid in the space between the tissues - earlier known as edema). A particular suggestion of silver birch's use is for treating edema that has cardiac origins or those related to the kidneys.

Traditionally, the birch is associated with cleansing. Druids were of the belief that silver birch possessed the attributes of regeneration. Currently, experienced herbalists possibly will employ the dried up buds, leaves and bark as well as the sap of the birch to treat several ailments, including problems related to the urinary tract, in the form of a sanitization diuretic agent, or to treat inflammatory conditions like skin complaints and arthritis.

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Apart from its therapeutic uses, the branches of silver birch were preferably used in the form of rods to mete out physical punishments in schools or employed for public flogging of adolescent wrongdoers, while self-punishing penitents used the birch switch for several hundred years to purify their souls.

The extract obtained from silver birch is also employed to prepare external body care items, for instance massage oils that help to facilitate the removal of waste products by means of the skin pores - the same way in which the extract or juice works from within the body. Body oils prepared from the birch perform excellently to make the skin smooth as well as firm. At the same time, the body oils also deal with other problems, such as cellulite. Dermatological studies demonstrate obvious advantages of using birch extract and this is thrilling news indeed.

Silver birch or birch bark that encloses betulinic acid as well as other natural chemicals is applied to the skin for treating eczema, warts as well as different other skin complaints. Advocators of birch assert that a tea prepared from the herb may be used internally in the form of a diuretic or a gentle tranquilizer. They also add that this tea may be employed for treating kidney stones, gout and rheumatism. Occasionally, the leaves of birch are applied to the scalp with a view to prevent hair loss and get rid of dandruff. Birch tar, which is basically an oil refined from the birch bark, is applied to the skin to cure skin irritations as well as to get rid of parasites. Additional claims regarding birch bark comprise treating dysentery, diarrhea and even cholera.

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A number of researchers are of the belief that betulin that is extracted from the bark of the birch as well as additional sources results in the process of self-destruction by some variety of tumour cells and this process is known as apoptosis. These researches are also of the view that betulinic acid inhibits the development of many kinds of tumour cells as well as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In addition, there are some researchers who believe that silver birch possesses anti-bacterial attributes.

Habitat and cultivation

The silver birch should be usually grown in comparatively large gardens and owing to the shallow roots of this tree, it ought to be grown at a distance of a minimum of 6 meters from any building. Owing to its shallow roots, silver birch is also vulnerable to acute droughts. This tree is found growing in the forest lands all over the entire northern hemisphere.

It may be noted that silver birch trees are extremely vulnerable to the bronze birch borer that may be restricted by spraying a pesticide. In case the trees are not sprayed with insecticides on the regular basis, those that are infested with bronze birch borer will ultimately die.

Constituents

Silver birch contains: volatile oil and resin (together constituting 'empyreumatic oil of birch' - including betulin), saponins, flavonoids (mainly hyperoside), tannins, bitter glycoside.

Usual dosage

Therapeutically, silver birch is taken in different forms. If you are taking the dried leaves, buds or bark of the tree, it should be taken in dosage of 1 gram to 4 grams. The usual dosage of the tree's sap is 10 ml to 20 ml conserved with about 20 per cent alcohol taken thrice every day.

Side effects and cautions

People using therapeutic preparations from silver birch should be aware of the side effects caused by this herbal remedy and take necessary precautions to avoid them. For instance, people who are susceptible to aspirin should never use products prepared from birch, as this species encloses considerable quantities of compounds that are comparable to aspirin. However, it may be noted that the entire range of consequences of using birch is yet to be ascertained. In addition, using birch may also be unsafe for people enduring a weak heart or poor performance of the kidneys. Birch products should also not be used by women during pregnancy, nursing mothers and children. It has been reported that using birch products result in skin rashes and, similar to majority of the other plants, it may also result in allergic reactions. In fact, scientists are still in the process of examining betulinic acid, enclosed by birch. More studies and experiments are essential to establish if the use of this herb is harmless for human use.

Collection and harvesting

The buds of silver birch are collected in March, while the leaves are gathered during April-May. The bark as well as the sap exuded by this tree may also be collected in spring. To obtain the sap, you need to bore holes into the trunk of the tree and collect the flow of the sap using a pipe into a vessel for a maximum period of two days. This sap needs to be conserved using alcohol.

The buds, leaves and bark of silver birch are all dried up in the normal manner. However, it is advisable to dry them outside in the sun as this is likely to be more effectual compared to employing artificial heat. The dried up leaves of silver birch may be steeped. Adding a small amount of sodium bicarbonate facilitates the extraction of the oil significantly. However, the bark as well as the buds of the tree require different degrees of decoction.

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