Birch (Hua Mu Pi, Hong Hua Pi)
Botanical Name: Western: Betula alba, B. benta (American Birch). Eastern: B. platyphylla var. japonica (Asian/Japanese Birch).
Birch has a varied history. Since ancient times, many cultures have used it for writing, building, magic, and disinfecting. Birch is also used to clean and irrigate the urinary tract and to purify the blood.
Below is an overview of birch, combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of birch.
Western Name: Birch
Also Known As: Abedul, Betula, White Birch, Silver Birch, Betula pendula, Cherry Birch, Sweet Birch
Organs/Systems: Bladder, Joints, Skin
Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Diuretic, Analgesic, Anti-inflammatory, Anticancer, Aromatic, Astringent, Febrifuge, Antibacterial, Disinfectant. Urinary tract infection, promote urination, minimize arthritis, rheumatism, hair loss, skin rashes. Muscle and joint pain.
Pin Yin: Hua Mu Pi, Hong Hua Pi
Also Known As: Asian White Birch Bark, Japanese White Birch Bark
Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Clear Heat/Relieve Inflammation: atopic dermatitis, sores, inflammatory skin disorders.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Leaves, Twigs, Buds, Bark, Birch Tar
Flavors/Temps: Slightly Pungent, Somewhat Bitter, Cooling
Caution: None noted.
History/Folklore: Has been used with lots of fluids to cleanse and irrigate the urinary tract and in springtime to purify the blood. Birch bark easily peels away from the tree’s trunk, but is very slow to decay. If the dark inner bark is damaged, the removal of the outer layer can kill the tree. Because the outer bark is so slow to decay it can be harvested from dead or fallen trees and still retain its wonderful healing properties. It is strong, water resistant and highly pliable, making it easy to bend, cut and even sew.
Native Americans used birch bark in many different ways. To build canoes, wigwams, ritual art, food containers, even clothing. Birch is very aromatic and tastes similar to wintergreen.
Being a soft wood, birch wood is mostly used for products such as broom handles. Birch charcoal is used for gunpowder. Russia uses birch oil to treat leather giving it durability and preventing mold. Therefore, it is often used to bind books. Birch tar oil is a significant Russian industry and is almost identical to wintergreen oil. It is used in photography and prevents bug bites. The inner bark can be ground into flour and was used in times of famine or as a last resort food for survival.
Betulinic acid is being studied as a possible anticancer treatment. It is thought that betulinic acid may slow the growth of several types of tumor cells.
The tree, with her silvery white bark is recognized as a youthful Goddess of love and light. The Celts identify the birch tree with the virgin Goddess Brigid. In Siberia the tree is regarded as the sacred world-tree that is the bridge between this world and the spirit realm. The Fly Agaric mushroom (the classic red mushroom with white polka dots seen in many fairy tales) is considered to be a food of the Gods, and used by Siberian Shamans, grows near birch trees. Some legends portray the birch tree as a manifestation of the Goddess who offers her milk to the shaman as an elixir of life, and the sacred mushroom is said to be her breast. As one of the first trees to turn green in spring, the birch is understandably associated with life, fertility and magic. Farmers have used her progress as an indicator for when to start sowing wheat crops.
In pre-Christian times, the birch played an important role in the Beltane celebrations, traditionally celebrated on the eve of the first of May. The “Maytree” or “Maypole” was often a birch tree. A custom evolved of hitting, flogging or “beating” the woman with the pliant Birch twigs and branches in a ritual called “quickening.” It was thought the mere touch of the birch twigs would ensure fertility and drive out evil spirits. This same procedure was used to drive out curses, witchcraft and evil spells. In magical folk medicine the birch was associated with the transfer of magic to alleviate the pain of rheumatism. The young branches were tied around the affected area and the pain was said to be absorbed by the twigs while the branchlets transferred their suppleness into the painful joint.
Birch smoke is an excellent disinfectant and has been used to purify the air and prevent the spread of illness.
Vitamin C, Betulinic acid (Bet A), Volatile oil (Betulin), Methyl salicylate, saponins, flavonoids, Hyperoside resin,
tannins, sesquiterpenes, Butinnol, Salicylate
Derived from Sanskrit
The name birch probably derived from the ancient Sanskrit word “bhurga” which means “tree whose bark is written upon” or “shining tree.”
The salicylate compound found in birch is also found in aspirin and helps relieve inflammation and pain.
In Europe, birch sap has been fermented into beer, wine, and other spirits, and the inner bark has been eaten as food.
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