Birch oil is used in natural skin care products for its antiseptic, astringent, depurative, disinfectant, and diuretic properties. Birch oil is extracted from Betula alba of the Betulaceae family and is also known as European white birch or silver birch.
Birch oil has a balsamic smell and is pale yellow in color. This decorative tree is native to the northern hemisphere and grows up to 15-20 meters in height.
It has slender branches, silver-white bark broken into scales and light green oval leaves. Birch buds were formerly used as a tonic in hair preparations. In Scandinavia, young birch leaflets and twigs are bound into bundles and used in the sauna to tone the skin and promote the circulation. The sap is also tapped in the Spring and drank as a tonic.
Crude birch tar is extracted by slow destructive distillation from the bark; this is subsequently steam-distilled to yield rectified birch tar oil. The main components of birch oil are salicylic acid, methyl salicylate, betulene and betulenol. White birch oil is generally non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitizing but should be avoided during pregnancy due to possible irritation occurring.
White birch oil is useful for dermatitis, dull or congested skin, eczema, hair care and psoriasis, although it could irritate the skin. It is also helpful in cases of poor circulation, the accumulation of toxins in the muscles, for arthritis, rheumatism, muscular pains, edema and cellulite.
Birch oil blends well with although most essential oils blend well together, birch oil blends particularly well with benzoin, jasmine, sandalwood and rosemary.
Birch has been used in many different cultures as a tonic to promote healing and continues to be used today in cosmetics, flavorings and therapeutically as an essential oil. Native Americans would drink a concoction made from the Sweet Birch bark, very similar to “root beer”. In Europe ancient people would use the buds of the White Birch as a tonic for hair and skin problems. In Scandinavia, birch twigs would be added to the sauna to stimulate circulation. Today we use birch in many of the same way as an essential oil.
The buds of the Betula alba, or White birch are steam distilled to form the essential oil. The tar is distilled from the bark and “Pine Tar” (Birch Tar) and was well known to older generations for use in skin and hair treatments. It can still be found in healing lotions and potions for eczema and psoriasis, and in shampoos for dandruff and scalp irritations. Many men’s colognes have a base of birch tar as it has a woody, smoky, “Russian leather” type of smell.
In aromatherapy massage, birch is wonderful for all skin complaints. As mentioned before, it works well to soothe eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and congestion in the pores. A few drops mixed in shampoos will control dandruff and stimulate the scalp to encourage stronger healthier hair. Birch does come with a caution. Some skins are very sensitive so birch essential oil must be mixed in a carrier or skin irritation could occur. As with most essential oils, never apply directly to the skin as they are too concentrated and can burn superficially.
Another therapeutic property of birch is its ability to assist in reducing inflammation of arthritis, cellulite and edema. Birch stimulates the circulation and encourages detoxification of any accumulated poisons out of the cells. In a tonic form it promotes sweating and evacuation of toxins. As a diuretic, birch supports kidney function, thus releasing built up and stagnant fluids in the body. It can also be helpful with urinary tract infections, especially if the oil is placed in a warm bath and soaked in. Muscle aches and pains can be relieved with massage or a warm bath in which birch essential oil mixed with bath salts or bath oils is added.
Birch is a very uplifting oil when burned in an aroma lamp and can awaken and enliven the senses. It has the ability to promote mental clarity and cleanse out cluttered unwanted thoughts. It seems to be able to move stuck thought patterns along, so that one can be free of the repetitive recurring chatter that the mental body obsesses over. It allows for self-acceptance and re-evaluation of one’s one thoughts towards self. Like looking in a mirror, birch asks us to examine who we are and how we appear to ourselves. When mixed with some of the deeper, more meditative oils like frankincense and sandalwood, birch can bring us into a depth of self-introspection, where release of deep patterning can be achieved.
The health benefits of Birch Essential Oil can be attributed to its properties as a tonic, disinfectant, stimulant, antidepressant, analgesic, detoxifying, antirheumatic, antiarthritic, diuretic, antiseptic, astringent, febrifuge, germicide, insecticide, and depurative substance.
There are two types of birch, the White Birch or Silver Birch, which is scientifically known as Betula Pendula (previously known as Betula Alba), and the Black Birch, Sweet Birch, or Cherry Birch whose scientific name is Betula Lenta. The main constituents of birch oil are Salicylic Acid, Methyl Salicylate, Betulene and Betulenol.
Birch Oil is a stimulant by nature. It stimulates the nervous, circulatory, digestive and excretory systems. It also stimulates the endocrine glands that result in more secretions of enzymes and essential hormones. This can play a beneficial role in diseases associated with the improper secretion of hormones, including diabetes, where the enhanced insulin production will help lower the blood sugar levels.
Analgesic & Antispasmodic
Birch oil is helpful in reducing pain in the joints and muscles, as well as pain associated with headaches and toothaches. It is also antispasmodic and relieves cramping throughout the body.
Antiseptic & Disinfectant
These are the two of the most important properties of birch oil. The components responsible for these properties are Salicylic Acid and Methyl Salicylate, two well known germicides and bactericides in the world of medicine. They protect the skin from both bacterial and fungal infections.
Antirheumatic & Anti-Arthritic
Since it stimulates circulatory system and improves circulation, birch oil is very helpful in giving relief in diseases associated with improper circulation such as edema (swelling), rheumatism, and arthritis. The detoxifying property of birch oil also aids in this, as it removes toxins from the body which are the root causes of these circulatory diseases.
Astringent & Tonic
For ages, birch oil has been in use as a skin toner. Regular external application (in low dosages) effectively reduces wrinkles and sagging of the skin and muscles. Its astringent property strengthens gums, hair and tightens muscles. Thus it makes you look younger and may help you get back into a more youthful lifestyle, even when you are well into your forties or fifties.
Detoxifier & Depurative
Birch oil helps to remove toxins like uric acid from the blood through increased urination and perspiration (being diuretic and stimulant in nature). In other words, this purifies the blood; a depurative is an agent that purifies something.
Germicide & Insecticide
Birch oil is an excellent germicide and insecticide, mainly due to presence of Salicylic Acid and Methyl Salicylate contained in it. These two components are excellent cures for eczema, ring worm and other skin diseases and infections. You might have seen medicinal preparations like lotions and creams for ring worm and eczema containing these two components. Birch oil is a natural source of these beneficial compounds.
It helps reduce body temperature during fever by promoting perspiration. This also helps in the removal of toxins from the body through sweat during fever, further improving the condition of the patient and leading towards a faster recovery time.
Birch oil promotes urination. Betulenol and Betulene are the two components which are responsible for this property. Urination helps body in many ways. It helps people to lose weight, removes toxins from the body, promotes digestion, cures infections in the urinary system, cleans the kidneys and lowers blood pressure. Urination also helps prevent the formation of kidney stones and conditions like gout and arthritis.
Used as a tonic, it gives feelings of strength, warmth and vitality. It is ideal for use in extremely cold climates.
A Few Words of Caution
Sweet Birch (Betula Lenta) oil is toxic and can cause skin irritations. Pregnant women should avoid birch oil due to its powerful effects that could hurt their unborn child.