Birch Oil: Benefits, Uses, Properties, and Side Effects
From using it for massage to rinsing your hair and treating complex health issues like cardiac diseases, the birch oil benefits are abundant. Not many are aware what this oil is capable of.
On that note, let’s understand its properties, chemical structure, benefits, and much more.
What Is Birch Oil?
The birch essential oil is obtained from its wood via steam distillation. It is similar to sweet birch, which is commonly found in the Pennsylvanian mountains.
A large number of small birch plants are required for commercial production to make a quarter of birch oil. No wonder it is so expensive and holds great value.
It also sold in its raw form by the druggist, as there is a massive demand for it and used prominently for flavoring candies, medicine, and drugs.
Birch oil has multiple health benefits. The oil of birch is used for reducing obesity. In fact, it is one of the key ingredients in many slimming and beauty products.
Scientific Name Of Birch Oil
The botanical name of Birch is Betula alleghaniensis.
History Of Birch Oil
Historically, birch was known as Betula lutea. But now, it is generally known as Betula allaghaniensis. The use of birch in tea dates back to the early times when Native Americans and early European settlers used it for flavoring.
Birch oil helps to strengthen the circulatory system, maintains a healthy urinary tract, promotes beautiful skin, and sustains a great shape.
The use of birch bark in India and other countries like China and Tibet dates back to 7000- 5000 years when people used them for writing scriptures. It has significant economic and mythological importance in India.
Since eras, birch has been widely used for writing mantras and other ancient mythological scriptures. All the Vedas and Upanishads are written on the pages made by birch bark in India.
The birch tree is nicknamed as the “mother tree” because it represents “fertility” and was the first tree to grow after the ice age. It is also called “the way shower” because it can light the way in the dark forest.
In ancient European cultures, Birch is believed to be the quintessentially feminine tree. Moreover, in Native American traditions, it is called “the Lady of the Forest,” and in Russian folklore, it is associated with Freya, the Forest Lady. In Norse and Germanic traditions, it is believed that birch connects its energy to the feminine aspects of the universe. (1)
About Birch Tree:
Birch belongs to Betulaceae, a family of 6 different genera and about 120 species. Birch originated from Canada, Scandinavia, and the U.S. The other names include Yellow Birch, which considered as one of the native species of birch.
The common names of birch are listed in different languages. In English, it is known as birch or Old English Birch. In German, it is called Birke. In Danish, it is called Birk. In Norwegian, it is called Bjork. In Russian, it is called Bereza. In Albanian, it is Bredh. In Ukranian, it is Bereza. In Sanskrit, it is Bhurja. In Polish, it is Brzoza. In Latin, it is Fraxinus. In Dutch, it is Berk and in Latvian, it is Berz.
The name yellow birch arose from its yellowish bronze peeling bark. This bark is the aromatic inner bark, which contributes to its flavor and fragrance. The aroma is much similar to that of wintergreen oil.
Half of its cultivation in North America is from Quebec. They are small, medium-sized trees or shrubs. The leaves are simple, alternate, and double-serrated with feathery veins. They are two-leaved with lateral branchlets.
Its fruits are small, and in some species, you will find wings with its seeds. The bark of the birch is characteristically long, with horizontal lenticels and can be separated thin in papery plates.
The color of these barks is usually yellow. However, in a few other species, it can also range from back to silver.
The flowers are monoecious, meaning that they are open along with the leaves or before the leaves. The flowers bloom in early autumn and stay the entire winter. The ovary of the birch flowers are compressed, two-celled, and crowned with slender style.
Color, Consistency, and Smell Of Birch Oil
- The color of birch oil is colorless or pale yellow.
- The consistency of birch oil is slightly thin.
- The smell of birch oil is sweet, sharp, and minty, similar to wintergreen oil.
Properties Of Birch Essential Oil
The essential properties of birch include (2):
- Diuretic – Reduces uric acid through urination
- Antirheumatic – Works against arthritis
- Antiseptic – Heals sepsis or cuts and wounds
- Antidiabetic – Cures diabetes
- Hypouricemia – Reduces the frequency of urination
- Antihydropic – Water retention property
- Antimicrobial – Prevents bacterial and viral infections
- Slimming – Dilutes fat and reduces obesity
- Anti-inflammatory – Reduces swelling, redness, and pain
- Antioxidant – Eliminates free radicals
- Analgesic – Lowers the effect of pain
- Antipyretic – Controls endopyrogens
- Nervine – Calms the nerves
- Hepatoprotective – Protects liver cells from malfunctioning
- Renoprotective – Protects renal cells and nephrons
Chemical Compounds In Birch Oil
Betulinol is the primary compound that is found abundantly in birch. Other components include esters (betulinol & lupeol – 4.4%), terpenoids (75.2%), hydrocarbons (6.3%) and their epoxides (1.0%), steroids (β-sitosterol – 2.7%), ether oils (0.08%), flavonoids (primarily kaempferol – 1.56%), 4-methyl ester of naringenin, quercetin, 7-methyl ester, etc), tannins (2.1%), hydroxycoumarins (umbelliferone – 0.85%, esculetin, etc.), and a number of unidentified compounds (about 4.0%).
The significant components of dried bark are triterpenoids and hydrocarbons. On chromatographic extraction, the identified compounds are betulinol, lupeol, isobetulinol, betulonic acid, lupenone, betulonic aldehyde, platanic acid, betulinic acid, and hydrocarbons such as α-santalene, α-trans-bergamotene, and β-trans-bergamotene. (3, 4)
Benefits Of Birch Oil
Though there are various health benefits of birch oil, the notable ones include:
1. Treats cancer
The anti-cancerous property of birch oil is associated with its rich antioxidants, which help in scavenging the free radicals and culminates its adverse effects.
The free radicals are the metabolic products, which are in the form of O-, O2- ions. They can easily rupture the cell walls and may cause several after effects.
However, the rich antioxidants in birch can inhibit the growth of tumors and regulate the uncontrolled cell growth. Tumor is the primary symptom of cancer formation. By regulating tumor, and by increasing the cell health, it can prevent cancer. (5)
2. Helps bone-related problems
One of the best birch oil benefits is that it can easily control bone related issues. There are complete spectra of bone problems. It works on arthritis, gout, and osteoporosis.
It is a depurative (or blood purifier), which purifies the blood by increasing urination. Excess uric acid is filtered out from the blood. Not many are aware of the fact that when uric acid deposits in the joints, it can cause gout and arthritis.
Once deposited, they convert into rods and crystals in the synovial fluid of joints and inhibits proper movements. Also, this causes pain in the joints. However, birch eliminates the excess uric acid from the blood and the dissolves the crystals deposited in them.
Terpenoids, flavonoids, and the esters in birch play a significant role in the treatment of gout and arthritis. It also improves bone health by increasing the absorption of calcium. More the calcium absorbed, healthier the bones will be. (6)
3. Controls blood sugar & cholesterol levels
The sap of the birch can be tapped and ingested. It is used as a spring tonic in many cultures. The sap ferments very easily. With cloves and a piece of cinnamon, it can be stored for short-term in the refrigerator.
It can also be frozen, boiled, canned, or preserved with alcohol and kept for later use. It is diuretic in nature and has the capacity to remove excess salt from the blood.
When excess salt is eliminated, it lowers the blood pressure and thus, it is proven effective for patients with hypertension.
Besides treating high blood pressure, it helps get rid of excess sugar via urine. It also controls the secretion of insulin and is found helpful in nullifying the effect of diabetes.
The myristic acid found in birch is effective in lowering down the cholesterol levels being deposited, improving the heart health in return.(7)
4. Beautifies the skin
Birch helps improves the skin texture and gives a young looking glow by removing wrinkles and black patches. It is often used as a mask for skin tightening (but diluted with a suitable carrier oil and with a few other ingredients).
Being a potent antioxidant, it gets rid of the free radicals. It removes dark and light patches. This property is also associated with antioxidant effect of birch. (8)
5. Works on hepatic problems
Birch is effective in treating a number of hepatic problems. It increases the secretion of bile and reduces the side effect of malfunction. Myristic acid in birch is found to be effective in liver diseases. By increasing the bile, it helps in healthy digestion. It prevents inflammation of hepatic cells after hepatic colic. (9)
6. Effective for renal issues
The major components of birch such as salicylic acid and myristic acid are also effective for renal problems. Consuming 2-4 drops of birch oil with 1 glass of water is found to be effective in treating kidney stones, urethritis, cystitis, and nephritis.
It detoxifies the kidneys and purifies the blood. It has been found very effective in healing nephrons-related issues and clearing the cysts. (10)
7. Helpful in sexual disorders
Betula verrucosa, or the silver birch has a mild effect than white birch. White birch works on the endocrine glands. It helps in stimulating the reproductive glands of both men and women.
It is very helpful in erectile dysfunction and often used with Quercus robur (oak) and Sequoiadendron gigantea (giant sequoia). It is also helpful in female sexual dysfunction when blended with Vaccinium Vitis-idea (cowberry) and Rubus idaeus (raspberry).
In males, birch stimulates the general endocrine action. In delayed puberty and during andropause in males, the catkin extract can be used to stimulate the activity of the testes.
8. Cures tonsillitis & sore throat
Birch is found highly effective in healing tonsillitis, a condition where the tonsils are inflamed. This is due to the presence of salicylic acid in it, which is a well-known anti-inflammatory.
It also helps in curing sore throat and mouth ulcers. Gargling with the decoction or leaves of birch twice to thrice a day can be helpful. (11)
9. Helpful in swine flu
Birch helps in the treatment for different respiratory disorders. Salicylic acid and methyl salicylate are effective components used in many drugs to treat respiratory-related issues. However, these two compounds are naturally found abundantly in birch oil.
It is one of the best remedies for influenza, cold, and swine flu. It is even found effective in pneumonia. It reduces the inflammation of the respiratory tract and reduces the effects of asthma. (12, 13)
10. Prevents bacterial growth
Birch oil is an excellent antimicrobial agent, which helps in inhibiting the growth of microorganisms. Both methyl salicylate and salicylic acid are effective in the prevention of micro-organisms.
When applied on the infected area, it disintegrates or breaks the structure of the bacterial and viral cell wall. On disintegration of the microbial cell wall, the microbes are destroyed.
It is an excellent germicide and insecticide, this property is basically because of the presence of Salicylic Acid and Methyl Salicylate in it. These two components are an excellent remedy for eczema, ringworm, and other skin related problems too.
What Blends With Birch Oil?
Birch oil blends the best with:
- Sandalwood oil (or powder)
- Rosemary oil
- Jasmine oil
How To Use Birch Oil?
Birch is very sensitive. Hence, when overdosed, it can cause skin irritation and infection in the oral and respiratory tract. It can be used as a tea, decoction, and in the form of powder.
It is suggested to consume it like an herbal tea. But the amount should be not more than 2-3 gm in 1 1/2 cups of boiling water.
For throat infections, mix 1 teaspoon of powdered birch leaves with a glass of lukewarm water.
Consumption during pregnancy or lactation is strictly not recommended because it is not known what possible side effects may appear to the baby and exactly what amount is transferable from the mother to the fetus.
The scents of birch oil can cause irritation in the respiratory tract if used for a long-term or in excess. It can cause asthma and other breathing difficulties.
Side Effects Of Birch Oil
- Birch can cause itching in the mouth or throat.
- It can cause increased urination.
- It can cause infection in the respiratory tract, leading to asthma.
- The contraindications might be impaired cardiac & renal function and aspirin hypertension.
- It must be avoided in pregnancy and during lactation.
Birch also shows mild interaction with a few drugs like bendroflumethiazide, bumetanide, chlorothiazide, chlorthalidone, drospirenone, cyclopenthiazide, ethacrynic acid, furosemide, cyclopenthiazide, metolazone, methyclothiazide, spironolactone, torsemide, triamterene, and indapamide drugs. However, interactions varies from one person to the other.