- Cherry Birch
- Sweet Birch
- White Birch
Betula alba (commonly known as white birch) is a deciduous tree that grows up to a medium height, anything between 70 feet and 80 feet. The trunk of this tree is silver-hued, while its foliage is attractive and vividly green, which changes to golden prior to falling during autumn. The branches of this species have a somewhat weeping tendency. The growth rate of white birch is moderate.
The unique bark of the white birch tree makes it easy for people to identify this tree. The bark of this tree peels and its texture is akin to that of paper and, hence, is also known as the paper birch. It is also fairly easy to plant as well as maintain this tree. Normally, a healthy birch tree lives for anything between 40 years and 50 years.
Betula alba produces male as well as female blooms, which are known as catkins. These flowers change to small winged nutkins, which mature during the period between the beginning of August and middle of September. The seeds have wings, which help them to spread out from the trees ensuring that they don’t face any competition either for food or water.
The white birch possesses therapeutic properties and several of its parts are used for medicinal purposes. The tender leaves and shoots of this species emit a resinous substance that possesses acidic qualities. When this resinous matter is blended with any alkaline substance it turns into a tonic laxative. The leaves of Betula alba have a strange aromatic and pleasant odour. However, the leaves have a bitter flavour and are used as an infusion called the Birch tea. This infusion is used to treat a number of health conditions, including rheumatism, gout and dropsy. In addition, it is also recommended for treating kidney stones, as this tea is said to be a reliable solvent that dissolves such stones. The bark of this tree is also used to prevent decay. A decoction prepared from the white birch bark is excellent for rinsing skin eruption, in addition to treating dropsy.
The essential oil extracted from the paper birch bark possesses astringent attributes and is mostly used to treat various skin complaints, particularly eczema. This oil is also employed internally to treat a number of ailments.
The inner bark of this tree has a bitter flavour and astringent properties. It is used to treat intermittent fevers. The sap oozed by new plants possesses diuretic properties. In addition, the yellowish, fungous excrescences (harmless vegetable outgrowths) on the wood are used to make moxa. Occasionally, this sap seeps out from the crevices on the trunk of the tree.
The white birch tree is reputed for its remedial properties that help to heal the skin and prevent decaying. At the same time, it also works in the form of an astringent. It has been established that the leaves and shoots of this vegetative species also work as a diuretic as well as a laxative. Many people also use this plant internally for treating rheumatism, gout and kidney stones. In effect, betullinic acid is a major chemical element of this plant and currently it is being studied in the form of a potential remedy for cancer. It has been found that the form of this acid, which is soluble in water, helps to slow down prostate cancer growth in humans by almost 96 percent. A number of scientists are of the view that it also possesses the aptitude to obliterate the tumour cells as well as inhibit the progression of melanoma and HIV.
As far as skincare is concerned, formulations prepared from the white birch tree are used in the form of a natural therapy, as it aids in facilitating the discharge of fluids from the body and, at the same time, encourages metabolic actions. It possesses anti-inflammatory as well as skin-soothing attributes and this is the main reason why this plant is time and again employed to treat skin problems like eczema, warts and psoriasis. As it encloses vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B1 and vitamin B2, the white birch works in the form of an antioxidant. Generally, this medicinal plant is used in four different ways – infusion, tincture, extract and decoction.
Generally, white birch is used to prepare a tea, which aids in combating the internal ailments of the body. This herb can also be used in the form of a decoction by boiling the pulverized leaves and bark of the tree and adding it to your bath. Using white birch in this way helps to cure persistent skin eruptions. Some people also apply white birch decoction to their scalp with a view to prevent hair loss and combat dandruff. The extract of white birch leaves and bark is generally used in the manufacture of cosmetic products. The oils obtained from the tree are used in the form of an alternate for wintergreen. Occasionally, people also apply the leaves and bark of this tree directly to their skin. Some over-the-counter products like bath oil, shampoo conditioner, masks, facial moisturizer, shaving cream, and exfoliants also contain the extracts or oils of white birch.
An herbal tea is prepared by infusing the leaves of white birch and it is believed to be effective in dissolving kidney stones and eliminating gravel, provided one takes the tea in dosage of one to one-and-a-half cups daily. In addition, this tea or infusion is also employed in the form of a rinse or bath to treat additive skin disorders. Occasionally, practitioners of herbal medicine recommend a decoction prepared from white birch leaves to treat baldness. People enduring baldness may also apply freshly obtained juice of white birch leaves to their scalp. Often, white birch decoction is also employed in the form of a gentle tranquilizer, especially for people suffering from insomnia or sleeplessness. The decoction is also used in the form of a wash or added to bath water to treat chronic or acute skin disorders.
White birch contains a natural chemical called salicylate, which is also present in aspirin. Hence, this herb also works as a natural palliative. In fact, salicylate is effective in alleviating inflammation and pain associated with gout, arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, in addition to common muscle aches. In addition, salicylate also works to put off production of specific prostaglandins by our body that is related to pain, inflammation and fever, in addition to other things. Birch also has cleansing and diuretic actions, which not only help to get rid of toxic substances and surplus water from the body, but also helps to calm health conditions like arthritis and gout. In addition, it has been found that sweet birch is very effective in combating cellulite.
The leaves as well as the bark of white birch can also be employed in the form of an anti-bacterial diuretic for treating infections of the urinary tract as well as cystitis. In order to enhance the effects of the herb, and also reduce the burning sensation, you need to add a dash of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to the infusion prepared using the leaves or bark of the tree.
The white birch bark contains betulin as well as betulinic acid and they have shown some anti-tumour and anti-cancer attribute. However, none of them are recommended as an individual or sole treatment for cancer. Nevertheless, since the ancient times, white birch has been included in several healing remedies owing to the presence of these elements.
Habitat and cultivation
The white birch tree has a preference for a sunlit position. It thrives well in a damp, properly drained soil and can endure nearly all types of soils. It also possesses the aptitude to withstand strong winds and cold conditions.
It is important to irrigate the plants till they are properly established. In addition, mulching is also necessary in order to retain the soil’s moisture.
Chemical analysis of the white birch buds has revealed that they contain a volatile oil, which encloses a chemical called betulin – similar to camphor. The young white birch leaves are loaded with saponins, a substance derived from flavonoids, tannins, betuloventic acid, hyperoside resin and vitamin C. In addition to a glycoside, the bark of this tree contains betulinol.
Fresh leaves as well as the bark of white birch can be used to prepare teas that are taken to alleviate pain. Alternatively, they can be infused in oil and massaged for the same purpose. When applied externally, the bark of this tree alleviated muscle aches. For this purpose, freshly obtained, damp inner side of the bark is pressed against the skin. It is important to note that the essential oil extracted from the plant ought to be only used in very little amounts.
Infusion: Prepare an infusion using one tablespoon of the fresh leaves in half a cup of hot water.
Decoction: A decoction can be prepared by briefly boiling one tablespoon of the young white birch leaves in half a cup of water. After boiling, allow the resultant product to stand for two hours. Subsequently, add half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Drink one cup of this solution daily.
Juice: Extract the juice from fresh white birch leaves and store it. Take one teaspoon of the juice whenever needed.
Side effects and cautions
Although the leaves and the bark of white birch have been important in folk medicine for several centuries, proper examination of the safety as well as the effectiveness of these leaves and bark is yet to be undertaken. Ongoing research on the anti-tumour aptitudes of the leaves and bark appear to be promising. However, scientists are of the view that more studies are necessary to ascertain its safety on humans.
White birch bark contains chemicals like betulin and betulinic acid, which possess astringent properties. As a result of this it may result in dermal irritation, particularly in people who have dry or sensitive skins. Moreover, as the chemical composition of birch extract and aspirin is the same, people who are allergic to aspirin ought to stay away from this herb. Similarly, people enduring from problems related to the heart and kidney should avoid this herb. Before concluding, it is worth mentioning that as experts are still not aware of the complete effects of these elements on humans, this herb should not be given to children, nursing mothers and women during pregnancy.