- Betula alba L.
- Birch family
Parts Usually Used
Young leaves, inner bark, leaf buds
Description of Plant(s) and Culture
White birch is a tree grows to a height of 65 feet; it has chalky
white bark which can be peeled off in horizontal strips. Its leaves
are cordate, bright green above and lighter beneath, serrate, and
glabrous or minutely hairy. The flowers are borne in yellowish male
and gray-green female catkins. When the male catkins turn yellow with
pollen, the green female catkins enlarge to produce numerous two-winged
seeds, developing into seed cones. Flowers seen in April-May.
Found growing in the northern United States, Canada, and the northern
part of Europe. Upland woods, often in pure stands, from Labrador
to Alaska, near the northern limit for trees, south to North Carolina
and Colorado, in mountains in the south of its range.
Astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic
Saponins, traces of essential oil, tannin, bitter principle, glycosides
Legends, Myths and Stories
The inner bark contains an oil which is identical in flavor with
that of the wintergreen plant (Gaultheria procumbens). A wholesome
wintergreen-flavored tea may be made by pouring boiling water or boiling
birch sap over diced pieces of the inner birch bark or birch twigs
and letting it steep for a few minutes.
According to legend, Christ was beaten with birch rods. The fasces,
a bound bundle of birch sticks enclosing an axe with the blade projecting,
were carried by Roman soldiers in advance of emperors or important
officials. These fasces symbolized the state's power to punish by
flogging (the birch sticks) or by putting to death (the axe).
Birch wood has been used for furniture, wooden spoons, tool handles,
and broomsticks. Witches on Walpurgis Night were said to have ridden
on broomsticks made of birch. Native Americans used the water-resistant
birch bark for their canoes and wigwams.
To the people of northern Europe, the birch was a sacred tree. In
the Kalevala, a Finnish epic, the birch is designated as a holy tree
of great use to mankind. The Germanic peoples dedicated it to their
god of thunder, Thor.
The leaf tea is reported to eliminate gravel and dissolve kidney
stones when taken daily for a time, 1 to 1 1/2 cups a day. A decoction
of the leaves is sometimes recommended for baldness; or try the fresh
expressed juice. Mild sedative. Use a wash or bath additive for chronic
or severe skin problems. The inner bark contains an oil which is sometimes
substituted for wintergreen in liniment. Relieves headaches,
menstrual cramps, abdominal
cramps, gout, dropsy, acne,
eczema, pruritis, rheumatism
pains, diarrhea, colic,
colitis, and dysentery.
The liquid from boiling bark can be used to wash sores
and wounds, boils,
expels worms. Sap can be taken
as a spring tonic or
used as a hair tonic.
Beer is often made from the sap of sweet birch. A type of oil of
wintergreen is distilled from the inner bark and twigs.
Formulas or Dosages
The leaves must be used fresh.
Infusion: use 1 tbsp. leaves with 1/2 cup water.
Decoction: use 1 tbsp. leaves with 1/2 cup water. Boil briefly,
let stand for 2 hours, then add 1/2 tsp. bicarbonate of soda. Take
up to 1 cup a day.
Expressed juice: take 1 tsp. at a time, as required.