Companion Botanical Closeup: Birch

 In Companion Botanical, National News

There exist over 40 species in the Betulaceae family, of which the birch is a member. Depending on where you live, the most well known of these magnificent trees are the white, silver, and sweet birch.

The birch tree has long been revered throughout history for its beauty, its bark and its medicinal value. Like anything that is cherished, the birch has come to have many folkloric names. It has often been referred to as “the mother tree” as it is believed to have been the first tree to grow while the last ice age retreated. Some honor the white birch as the “way shower” for the way in which its bright white bark illuminates the traveler’s path through the night forest. Betula pendula is also known as “The Lady of the Forest.”

While many parts of the tree have been found to be of benefit to humans, the bark is particularly notable for its wide range of uses. We will focus here on the medicinal properties of one species in particular, Betula lenta, or sweet birch. Traditional systems of herbal medicine often relied on what is known as the doctrine of signatures, which states that features of plants that resemble parts of the human body are indicators of that plant’s ability to treat ailments residing or presenting in those body parts. The layered structure of birch bark informed herbalists that it could be a remedy for skin conditions.  Native American shamans used sweet birch bark pastes to relieve inflammatory skin conditions and wounds, resulting in diminished swelling. We know now that this is partially due to birch bark’s proven astringent action, its ability to both tone and tighten the skin, as well as to drive excess fluid from soft tissues. Sweet birch bark is also rich in methyl salicylate, which like menthol, causes the skin to feel cool, then warm when applied topically.  Research is showing that this counterirritant action may interfere with the transmission of pain signals across nerve channels and is why both methyl salicylate and menthol are regularly formulated together in products such as Bengay and IcyHot to soothe sore, fatigued muscles and joints.

It is for these reasons that we chose the essential oil of sweet birch as an ingredient in our Ceres Natural Remedies Hemp Infused Salve and our CVD 1:1 Salve. The oil we use is distilled from pulverized bark sourced from wild harvested Canadian trees. Its bright and refreshing wintergreen fragrance is both uplifting and stimulating when applied topically or inhaled.

Fun Fact: While we refer to Betula lenta as sweet birch, it is also known as black birch, mahogany birch, cherry birch, and spice birch.

Important Note: Due to its high concentration of salicylic acid, the essential oil of sweet birch should not be taken internally or used on open wounds. Salicylic acid is the primary active ingredient in aspirin and is known to be a blood thinning agent that can interfere with the healthy formation of blood clots. 

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.