The birch tree is very versatile in use. While it’s most popular for its wood, the bark contains a high amount of betulin and phytochemicals. These aid in calming inflammation and promote joint and tissue health. Birch also helps slow down hair loss.
The birch tree’s medicinal benefits come from its bark and leaves. Birch should not be used for edema when heart and kidney problems are present. No other adverse reactions are known to come from birch. Birch is available in tea, and extract form.
The medicinal parts are the bark, leaves and buds.
Flower and Fruit
The male flowers of Betula pendula are sessile and oblong-cylindrical 6 to 10 cm long. The female catkins are petioled, cylindrical and 2 to 4 cm long by 8 to 10 mm thick when fully grown. They are densely flowered, first yellow-green, later light green. The fruit scales are brownish and pubescent or glabrous. The middle lobes are small, short-triangular and shorter than the broad, always revolute side lobes. The fruit wings are half-oval and 2 to 3 times as broad as the fruit.
The male catkins of Betula pubescens are sessile and oblong-cylindrical. They are initially upright, later hanging, 2.5 to 4 cm long and 6 to 10 mm thick, greenish to light brown. The middle lobes of the fruit scales protrude clearly, are usually linguiform-elogated and generally longer than the usually sharp-cornered, clearly evolute side lobes. The fruit scales are about as broad as the fruit.
Leaves, Stem, and Root
Betula pendula is a tree that grows up to 30 cm high, with a snow white bark that usually peels off in horizontal strips or changes into a black, stony, hard bark. Young branches are glabrous and thickly covered in warty resin glands. The petioled leaves are dark green above, a lighter gray-green below. They have serrate margins and particularly tightly packed veins. The lamina are about 3 to 7 cm long by 2 to 5 cm wide, rhomboid-triangular, acuminate, glabrous, densely covered in glands, and have a doubly serrate margin. They are dark green and glabrous above and a lighter green below; they are initially downy and later pubescent in the vein axils.
Betula pendula and Betula pubescens are indigenous to Europe from the northern Mediterranean regions to Siberia and to temperate regions of Asia.
Birch leaf consists of the fresh or dried leaf of Betula pendula (syn. Betula verrucosa), Betula pubescens, or of both species. The leaves are collected in the wild during the spring and dried at room temperature in the shade. Birch tar (Betulae oleum empyreumaticum retificatum) is a clear, dark brown oil obtained from Betula pendula or Betula pubescens through a distillation process.
Common Birch, Silver Birch, White Birch
Actions & Pharmacology
Compounds: Birch Leaf
Triterpene alcohol ester with saponinlike effect: betula-triterpene saponins
Flavonoids: including hyperoside, quercetin, myricetin digalactosides
Volatile oil: including sesquiterpene oxide
Monoterpene glucosides: including betula alboside A and B, roseoside
Caffeic acid derivatives: including chlorogenic acid
Effects: Birch Leaf
Birch leaves have a mild saluretic effect and are antipyretic. In animal tests, they have been shown to increase the amount of urine.
Compounds: Birch Tar
Phenols(6%): including among others guaiacol, cresole, catechol, pyrogallol, 5-propyl-pyrogallol dimethyl ether and 5-methyl-pyrogallol dimethyl ether
Effects: Birch Tar
The aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons in birch tar are irritating to the skin and have an antiparasitic effect. Its use for diverse skin conditions and for parasitic infestation such as scabies seems plausible.
Indications & Usage
The leaves are used in flushing-out therapy for bacterial and inflammatory diseases of the urinary tract and for kidney gravel. They are also used in adjunct therapy for rheumatic ailments, for increasing amount of urine. In folk medicine, the leaves are used as a blood purifier, and for gout and rheumatism. Externally, the leaves are used for hair loss and dandruff.
External birch tar uses include parasitic infestation of the skin with subsequent hair loss, rheumatism and gout (ointment); dry eczema and dermatoses (liquid preparations), psoriasis and other chronic skin diseases. Birch tar is a constituent of “Unguentum contra scabiem” that is used for the treatment of scabies.
The drug should not be used for edema when there is reduced cardiac or kidney function.
Precautions & Adverse Reactions
No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages.
No health hazards are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages. Birch tar can cause irritations on sensitive skin. Administration of the drug is not advisable, due to the possible presence of carcinogenic hydrocarbons.
Mode of Administration
Comminuted herb or dry extracts are used for teas; other galenic preparations and freshly pressed plant juices can also be used internally.
Tea is prepared by pouring 150 mL hot water over 1 to 2 dessertspoons of drug and then straining the leaves out after 15 minutes.
The average daily dose is 2 to 3 g drug several times a day with a caution to ensure ample intake of fluid (minimum 2 liters per day). A fresh cup of tea is taken between meals 3 to 4 times a day.
Birch leaf should be stored in sealed containers protected from light and moisture.
Mode of Administration
Birch Tar is used in combination preparations as external ointments and liniments.
Birch tar should be stored in tightly sealed containers.