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The Various Uses of Birch

Back in 1996, an HerbClip (See HC 101762-099) reported on an article by James Duke, PhD, former USDA botanist and ABC Board of Trustees member emeritus, where the subject matter was the birch tree (Betula spp.), betulinic acid, and betulin.

According to the article, betulinic acid, found in birch bark, has demonstrated efficacy in treating cancer melanomas in mice. Both betulinic acid and betulin are thought to have antitumor activity against carcinomas, with betulinic acid having the stronger action. Other birch bark compounds with reputed anticancer reputations are methyl salicylate and squalene.

A recent pilot study (See HC 101134-439) examined the effects of a birch bark extract on patients with chronic hepatitis C. The 12-week study demonstrated symptom relief, fatigue reduction, and decreases in abdominal discomfort, depression, and dyspepsia. Native Americans used birch bark to make tea in order to relieve headaches. It was also used as a tea (both leaves and bark) to alleviate fevers, kidney stones, and abdominal cramps. Poultices were used to aid in healing burns, wounds, and bruises. The Cree used it for lung ailments and gonorrhea, the Creek for tuberculosis, and the Ojibwa used it for stomach cramps.

Birch has been used for blood cleansing and is a strong antioxidant. Birch bark may be useful in the prevention or treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, melanoma, and degenerative ailments. Birch bark essential oil, obtained through a dry distillation process, was compared to 16 other oils and found to be second only to clove oil in antioxidant activity. White birch essential oil has been used for dermatitis, dull or congested skin, eczema, hair care, psoriasis, arthritis, cellulitis, muscle pain, rheumatism, poor circulation, obesity, and for detoxification.

Birch also has a mild sedative effect and may be helpful in insomnia.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor