Birch has a wide variety of medicinal applications which is reflective of its physical versatility; that of being able to grow in a wide variety of conditions. It also has different qualities in different parts of the tree. The leaves, the twigs, bark and the root are all used for medicine; different parts are often used for different purposes. In general, Birch is said to have diuretic, antirheumatic, stimulant, astringent, anthelmintic, choloagogue and diaphoretic qualities.
An infusion made from the leaves of the Birch has been used as a diuretic and cleansing agent to the urinary tract. It has therefore been used to eliminate gravel and dissolve kidney stones and to treat cystitis and other urinary tract infections. This infusion can also be used to cleanse the body of excess water. In addition, it has been used to treat gout, rheumatism and mild arthritic pain. Other uses of Birch leaves are for cramps and wounds.
The young shoots along with the leaves have been used as a tonic laxative. A decoction of the leaves has sometimes been used to prevent baldness, as is the fresh juice. The decoction is also used as a sleeping aid before bed for insomnia. This same tea can also be used as a wash for skin complaints. If the skin problems are severe or chronic, a decoction of the bark can be used as a wash or added to the bath. In addition, the oil extracted from the buds or the bark can be used externally for acne, rheumatism and gout.
The bark and twigs of the birch tree have qualities very similar to Wintergreen. They can be used as a healthy drink as it aids in purification of the blood. It is interesting in that Birch has been intentionally planted in waste areas such as old mines that have toxic grounds and other areas that humans have disturbed so greatly that other plants and animals don’t want to go near. Humans have planted Birch trees in these areas to purify the Earth to make way for future successions of native species. Being that Birch tend to stay for one generation before being replaced by other species as well as its cleansing nature makes it the perfect choice for such a task. It has a similar effect on humans when taken internally. It purifies the blood. In addition, the leaves from the tree when they fall to the ground, as well as the roots underground and the whole tree when it eventually dies and falls, rejuvenate the ground in these waste places. Being a blood purifier, the tea, twigs and bark can be helpful for boils and sores when taken internally as well as used as a wash.
Birch bark has positive effects on the bowel as well, which makes it tonifiying to the whole body. It can aid in conditions of diarrhea, dysentery and cholera infantum. It has historically been used to expel worms. A tea of the twigs and bark aids in ridding the mouth of canker sores.
The Salycilates in Birch bark have been used effectively against warts. The bark of Birch as well as the essential oil of Birch both contain salicylates that can ease sore muscles or joint pain if applied externally. Birch oil decreases inflammation in tissues and provides a counter-irritant when applied to overlaying and inflamed or irritated joints. Additionally, the bark as well as the buds have been used when antibacterial, antiviral and cell regenerative qualities are needed. This makes it great for wounds of many types. A study was done with patients who had infected wounds ranging from shallow to very deep cuts. Each patient was treated with the tincture of Birch buds. Very good results were obtained after using the tincture on all of the patients including ones with anti-biotic resistant infections.
The inner bark has been used for intermittent fever and cardial dropsy, and the wood of Birch has a yellow fungus that is used as a Moxa.
The Birch tree has been known as the Giving Tree. It played a huge roll in the existence of people and other animals throughout history. It seems that in modern day, the tree is still giving. New findings about the medicinal qualities and potentials of the Birch are still being gathered. “We believe we’re sitting on a kind of motherlode of medical possibilities.” Carlson watched the paper mills in the Lake Superior region waste tons and tons of Birch bark every day. He began to ponder the idea that the bark could be used for something rather than going to waste. He started to research the idea that it may provide important medicine and would therefore be valued in many different aspects - as a medicine, economically and environmentally. He noticed that when he would take a walk through the woods, he would see a fallen Birch that had rotted out, leaving the “paper” part of the bark behind, still intact. He found that this bark has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties as well as other “preserving” qualities. Carlson befriended the managers of the paper mills and together they have been working to have a smaller impact environmentally and a greater economic impact in the region.
The company will be selling Betulinic acid commercially focusing primarily on the cosmetic industries as their main buyers. Although the idea sounds good: helping the area economically and using the waste from the paper industries to make their product and producing a medicine that can help humans, there is controversy in the region over this plan.
A native healer in the same area has been using Birch as his ancestors have done throughout their history for medicinal purposes. They have found that trees over a certain size have the best medicinal effects. This healer has found in his lifetime that finding such a tree now days is getting harder and harder. He has to go farther and farther to find one that size. He is concerned that money will be the ultimate desire for the scientists and that they will not make efforts to preserve the big trees, that they will take them down for money and the Birch populations will dwindle to down to nothing. Without the big trees of any species, and without the forests and larger ecosystems, no matter how hard we try to make medicine, our planet and ourselves will still be sick.
Betulin is a compound that can be turned into Betulinic acid, however Betulinic acid also exists in the bark naturally. Scientists are researching the potential of Betulinic acid as well as just Betulin as a treatment for the herpes viruses, for AIDS as well as for skin cancer and brain tumors, especially in children. The herpes viruses cause cold sores, genital infections, chickenpox, shingles, infectious mononucleosis, and are thought to play a role in multiple sclerosis and Karposi’s sarcoma which is the cancer that often puts someone with AIDS over the edge. In the research, “Betulin -based treatment was several times more effective than the current most popular herpes treatment.” Betulinic acid has been noted as a “highly selective inhibitor of human melanoma growth and was reported to induce apoptosis in these cells.” In some studies on mice that were carrying human abnormal skin growths and were treated with betulinic acid, the growths were “completely inhibited without toxicity.”
It is likely that over time, even more medicinal qualities will be discovered of this great tree. Just looking at a Birch tree or a stand of Birch with its beautiful bark, gently swaying branches and shimmering leaves is enough to feed the spirit and bring about a peaceful feeling and state of health. The very existence of Birch is Medicine to the Earth as well as to animals including humans. Let us hope that humans will not allow greed to be blinders for what is going on with ecosystems all over the world.