BIRCH LEAF
Common Names

Birch leaf, Silver Birch, White Birch, Silver Birch
Botanical Name
Betula alba, Betula pendula
Family
BETULACEAE

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What is it?

Whilst the bark has also been employed in traditional herbal medicine, especially as a wound wash, this article focuses on the dried leaves which can come from several different species of Birch, itself a most familiar tree that just about anyone can identify from all over the world for its silvery-white bark that peels off in layers along with its lovely and distinctive, slender, drooping branches and leaves.


FLOWERS


DRIED


SEEDS

How has it been used?

The name 'Birch; is a very ancient one, probably derived from the Sanskrit 'Bhurga' - 'a tree whose bark is used for writing on.' From its other uses for boat-building and roofing it is connected with the old word 'beorgan' ' - to protect or shelter.'

Simon Mills describes Birch leaf as 'useful for rheumatic and arthritic conditions, especially where kidney function appears to need support'. He also suggests 'it can help in the active phases of rheumatic or other auto-immune illness, especially where associated with fever.'

Thomas Bartram also recommends Birch for arthritis or rheumatism as a tea and says that it is good for sluggish kidney function and heart 'oedema'.

Rudolph Weiss also suggests that aqueous birch leaf extracts (teas) are more effective than alcoholic extracts and he says that 'the treatment of rheumatic disease is a most important indication for the herb' which he also says 'causes observable increased electrolyte elimination and urinary excretion.'

Maude Grieve describes how 'the leaves have a peculiar, aromatic, agreeable odour and a bitter taste and have been employed in the form of an infusion (Birch tea) in gout, rheumatism and dropsy, and recommended as a reliable solvent of stone in the kidneys.'

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Science on Birch leaf

~ The German Commission E monograph on Birch leaf gives a positive report for its use in rheumatic disease as well as a diuretic for treatment of bacterial and inflammatory diseases of the urinary passages.

~ Birch contains large amounts of methyl salicylate which may be part of its value when taken internally but is certainly one reason why it has historically been used in ointments and liniments for aching muscles or joints

Safety of Birch leaf
When needed, Birch leaf can be used with confidence by all ages and by pregnant or breast-feeding women; there are no adverse reports in the medical literature from its medicinal use.

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Personal experiences

I have mainly used Birch in the form of a tea where I have found it to be of great help in cases where the joints are stiff, sore and inflamed.

Of course the above words can simply be seen as a way of describing of rheumatism or arthritis but I think it is helpful to get beyond the limitations of those names and instead focus on what it is the body needs the most help with in its own, constant, self-healing endeavours. To go into much greater detail into what I mean here, and especially for those for whom painful joints are much more than a theoretical matter I have a comprehensive article on the whole subject here.

I feel that Birch works especially well when combined with Juniper berry with which it probably shares several characteristics in how it stimulates the kidneys and helps the body to throw off its soluble wastes.

My personal use of Birch leaf in my clinic has favoured brief and intense courses of treatment rather than long term use. I might recommend anything from 4-8 grams a day of the dried leaf to be taken in infusions along with other cleansing and healing herbs as mentioned such as Juniper, and also it can be particularly helpful when we want to really clean the system through the kidneys and via the lymphatic system to combine with such great remedies as Dandelion leaf, Cleavers and Calendula.

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Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Birch is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B.

There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Birch leaf can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

The white birch is a favourite remedy in northern Europe, where it is abundant.

A spirituous beverage is prepared from the sap (through the intervention of yeast) by the peasants, and the sap itself is esteemed valuable in cutaneous disorders, renal and genito-urinary affections, scurvy, gout, rheumatism, and intermittent febrile states.

An infusion of the leaves has been employed in rheumatism, skin diseases, gout, and dropsy, while for the rheumatic a bed of fresh leaves is prepared, and is said to occasion profuse diaphoresis.

A pulpy mass of the bark, with gunpowder, is employed for scabies. The oil has been used internally in gonorrhoea, and externally in skin eruptions, especially those of an eczematous type.

 

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd