What is Birch Leaf?
Birch Tree Overview
The esteemed birch tree has a long and distinguished history of both commercial and medicinal use. The tree is a member of the Betulaceae family of trees and is related closely to the beech and oak family. Birch trees are found in temperate climes the world over and are especially widespread throughout the Northern hemisphere.
Birch trees are also known by several other common names including Paper Birch, Silver birch, Yellow birch and Cherry birch. The wood is widely used in the manufacture of furniture and paper while the leaves, sap, and bark of the trees are used to make medicine.
Birch trees are considered to be among the oldest species of tree still living. They are very fast growing and are remarkably hardy. They are even known to grow in areas with polluted soil in which other plants fail to grow. In fact, they have been known to cleanse contaminated soil making it habitable for other plants once again.
These cleansing abilities of the tree offer a clue as to some of the medicinal uses of the tree. Over the years, the bark and the leaves of the tree have been used to make a therapeutic tea with diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties.
These properties are known to help cleanse the body, promote healthy skin and combat inflammation. Birch leaf tea is exceptionally well known for its ability to support a person’s immune health.
Therapeutic Properties and Nutrition
Birch leaves are rich in vitamin C, saponins, flavonoids, tannins and sesquiterpenes. A tea can be made from the leaves alone or combined with the bark. The bark contains a number of medicinal compounds including betulinic acid which is the compound most responsible for its anti-inflammatory capacity and is often used to combat conditions like gout and rheumatoid arthritis.
Several studies have indicated that birch extract may be a great help in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
As well as the leaves and the bark, the tree’s sap can also be tapped and used for medicinal reasons. The sap contains many important minerals and sugars like fructose and glucose. It is a rich source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, and phosphorus as well as vitamin C and thiamine.
Birch Leaves Health Benefits
Birch leaves can be consumed in the form of a tea to help boost the body’s immune system. The leaves contain antiviral and antibacterial properties that help protect the body against infection and also speed up recovery from any infection that you may have.
Birch leaf tea also contains several natural antioxidants in the form of flavonoids and vitamin C which can further improve general health and help to reverse the damage done to the body by free radicals.
The leaves and the bark can be used to help make an anti-inflammatory tea to help treat various forms of inflammation. The bark, in particular, is high in betulinic acid which has potent anti-inflammatory activity. Because of this, birch tea can be used to help treat common joint conditions like arthritis and rheumatism. It can also be used to help alleviate internal inflammation affecting the digestive and respiratory systems.
Drinking a few cups of birch tea made with the leaves and the bark can help to stimulate your digestive system and improved overall digestion. Because of its anti-inflammatory nature, it is highly effective in relieving digestive upset. The tea can be used to relieve common digestive complaints like a cramp, abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.
The leaves also possess mild laxative properties meaning that they can be consumed to help relieve constipation and support more regular bowel movement. It has also been used throughout the centuries as a general digestive tonic.
Experts often recommend that you soak the birch leaves thoroughly in a good quality apple cider vinegar for a few weeks. This process might help release the micronutrients and the minerals meaning that you get more medicinal value from the leaves and also much of the value from the vinegar.
For The Skin and the Hair
Birch leaves and the bark of the tree contain astringent properties making them an effective treatment for various skin conditions. Birch bark also contains excellent anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties making it a good natural treatment for various inflammatory skin conditions. Conditions that birch may help treat include eczema and dermatitis.
To treat your skin with the leaves, you should soak your birch leaves in a jug of water for at least a few hours and then strain the solution. Use the leaf water to wash your skin paying particular attention to the affected areas. Bathing in water infused with birch leaves is another effective way of treating the skin, prevent dandruff and to help strengthen your hair roots.
Birch leaves can also be added to a compress to treat the skin of irritation or to relieve joint pain while you may also be interested in making your own oil. We will take a look at a birch leaf oil recipe later in the article.
For Urinary Tract Conditions
Birch leaves can be used to make a tea or juiced to help treat inflammation or infection in the urinary tract. Birch leaf tea may also help treat edema and flush the kidneys. Birch leaves have diuretic properties meaning that a tea made from them can help promote both the volume and the frequency of a person’s urination. This, in turn, helps to flush the system of uric acid, toxins and excess fluids throughout the body.
It can also help maintain good liver and kidney health and may even help eliminate unsightly cellulite.
Like many herbal teas, birch leaf tea may help promote a good night of sleep if you drink a cup or two before bedtime. The effects are probably mild and unlikely to help you overcome more serious sleep issues, but if you are simply feeling a little on edge, it is worth giving it a go.
To Detoxify the Body
As well as helping improve kidney health, the detoxifying abilities of birch leaves can help cleanse the blood. Regularly drinking birch tea may help eliminate toxins and impurities from the blood supply.
How to Use Birch Leaves
The most common way to use birch leaves is in tea form, but you may also like to make your own topical oil.
Birch Leaf Tea
If you have easy access to some birch trees, the best thing to do is collect your leaves while they are fresh and bright green in the early part of the summer. You can either use them fresh or dry them to use later.
- To make your birch leaf tea, use around 5 leaves for each large cup of water.
- Pour the boiling water over the leaves an let them steep for at least ten minutes.
- Add some honey and lemon to taste if you wish.
- Drink three or four cups a day for urinary infections, arthritis, gout or fluid retention.
Birch Bark and Betulin
Over the past few years, there have been a number of studies into the effects of betulin – a compound present in high levels in birch bark. Studies indicate that birch bark could have a number of benefits including the following:
- reducing cholesterol
- reducing triglyceride levels
- combating obesity
- improving insulin resistance
- reducing the risk of atherosclerosis
According to a study published in 2011, birch bark has an array of potential metabolic benefits. The animal study found that betulin helped reduce cholesterol levels, helped prevent obesity and helped improve insulin sensitivity. The researchers also found that mice treated with betulin were less likely to develop atherosclerosis or a plaque build-up in their arteries. (1)
Betulin is effective because it targets SREBP pathways known to be linked to metabolic disease. The pathway is important in activating gene expression involved with biosynthesis of triglycerides, cholesterol and fatty acids. the researchers found that betulin reduced the activity of the genes usually switched on by SREBP.
the mice were given a high-fat western diet and treated with betulin, a prescription statin used to reduce cholesterol or a placebo for a 6 week period. The mice given betulin or the statin gained less weight than the control group. While both treatments were effective, the rersearchers found they worked in a different way.
Betulin helped the mice burn a greater number of calories while the statin (lovastatin) reeduced the levels of lipid uptake from their diets.
Follow up investigations revealed that betulin also helped reduce lipid levels in the blood, fat tissue and lover. It also improved insulin sensitivity and less likely to develop atherosclerosis.
these exciting findings led researchers to suggest that betulin may be even more effective than the common prescription statin medication.
The study also suggested that betulin appeared safe with a low toxicity but the researchers ponted out further trials were necessary.
The betulin found in birch bark also has excellent anti-inflammatory properties. A study, published in 2013, found that betulin was one of a number of triterpenes with incredible anti-inflammatory effects. (2)
Inflammation is at the heart of many of the world’s major diseases including heart disease. The anti-inflammatory actions conferred by birch bark means birch bark and betulin could help combat a range of diseases including arthritis and auto-immune conditions like rheumatism.
A study published in 2011 found that betulin, present in birch bark, had powerful antioxidant properties. The study demonstrated that the compound was very beneficial to the liver’s health. (3) However. its proven ability to combat oxidative damage has a number of potential applications.
The powerful antioxidant effects of betulin can help protect the cells from damage and reduce the risk of myriad illnesses including serious diseases. Antioxidants also have an anti-aging effect that can work wonders on your appearance as well as your internal organs.
Where to Get Betulin
Birch bark is the best source of the compound but it is also present elsewhere in nature including the red alder tree and chaga mushrooms.
You can get powerful betulin extracts online or at many health stores.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Birch good for?
Birch tree leaves and bark are used to make medicine. The leaves are a good source of vitamin C as well as other medicinal compounds. The bark also contains a number of medicinal properties such as betulinic acid which is responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Birch leaves and bark are used for a number of conditions including urinary tract infections, kidney issues and to boost the immune system. Birch is also used for a variety of inflammatory conditions like arthritis and gout and can also be applied topically to treat skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis.
Is Birch sap good for skin?
Birch sap contains anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and astringent properties making it a valuable substance for the skin. It contains a number of amino acids as well as natural antioxidants and nutrients that are great for the skin. Birch sap can help reverse the signs of aging and may help relieve inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Is birch tree sap good for you?
Birch sap or birch water has been used for centuries in parts of Europe to cleanse and detoxify the system. Birch sap has natural diuretic properties that stimulate both the production and frequency of urination. That means it can be used as an alternative to pharmaceutical ‘water pills’ often prescribed to treat urinary tract or kidney infections. Birch tree sap can also be applied to the skin – it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help keep the skin healthy and treat inflammation.
Is birch leaf safe?
Birch leaves and bark are considered safe to apply topically or consume in appropriate doses. A popular tea is made from the leaves which you can drink several times a day. There are however some potential side effects and interactions which you can read about in more detail below.
Homemade Birch Leaf Oil
- Add enough fresh leaves to loosely fill a jar and then pour some sweet almond or virgin olive oil over the top filling the jar.
- Cover the jar with a cloth and hold it in place with a band.
- Put your jar in a light, sunny area of the home. Leave it there for at least a month but stir the mixture fairly regularly keeping the leaves beneath the oil.
- After a month, strain the oil into a suitable container and allow the oil to settle before pouring it into suitable storage bottles.
- Store the bottles in a cool area of the house.
- You can use your oil topically to treat muscle pain or rheumatism and to help eradicate cellulite or eczema.
Precautions and Potential Side Effects
According to WEBMD, birch leaf is likely safe for topical and internal use if it is used for a short period of time. However there are some precautions that you should be aware of.
- There is insufficient data regarding the safety of birch leaves and bark for pregnant women and nursing mothers. If you are either pregnant or breastfeeding, stay on the side of caution and do not use birch.
- People with allergies to various plants and herbs including mugwort, carrot and celery should also avoid using birch. Birch pollen may cause allergies to people who are allergic to carrot, celery and mugwort. It may also cause a reaction in people sensitive to other plant-based foods including soybeans, peanuts, hazelnuts and apples.
- People with high blood pressure should avoid using birch internally. Birch leaves may increase the amount of sodium retained by the body. This can make blood pressure problems even worse..
Diuretic medications or water pills can interact with birch. Birch leaves and bark have diuretic properties. Using birch internally along with prescription diuretics can cause you too much water loss from the body. This can lead to dizziness and a dangerous reduction in blood pressure.
Birch leaves and bark have a wide variety of potential health benefits but are mainly used to treat urinary tract infections, kidney issues and inflammation. Birch oil can be applied topically to keep the skin healthy and treat inflammation.
Studies into the effects of betulin, found in high levels in birch bark, have revealed the compound has an array of potential benefits. Betulin has a very positive effect on many metabolic disorders including high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.
There are certain potential side effects but birch is considered safe as long as it is used in suitable doses for short periods of time.