The healing power of rough birch and soft birch

The birch used to be a sacred tree. In fact, it still should be, because this graceful appearance with silver bark and branches that hang like a young girl’s hair, has various healing powers that are at the service of humans. In the spring you can easily tap birch sap from this tree. The juice works, among other things, as a purifying agent and is a medicine that cures arthritis. You can make a medicinal tea from the birch leaves and birch buds. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing birch / Source: Public domain, Wikimedia Commons (PD)


  • Mythological tree
  • Naming birch
  • History of birch as a medicinal tree
  • Active ingredients birch leaves and buds
  • Birch, good for edema
  • Birch, good for purification
  • Other medicinal effects Birch leaf
  • Consult a herbal therapist


Mythological tree

The birch or silver birch is a tree that originally grows in the low countries. It was the tree of life for Celts, Germanic people, Scandinavians and the Siberian shamans. The birch has been the subject of many oral myths throughout history. Only since the Middle Ages has the medicinal power of birch leaves and water been recorded. The silver tree is particularly good for eliminating moisture build-up. It is a purifying agent that, among other things, combats rheumatic diseases.

Naming birch

Scientists use Latin names for plants when communicating with each other. This way everyone knows for sure which plant it is. The Latin name of silver birch is Betula Pendula . Betu comes from the Celtic word for ‘to hit’. This refers to the birch branches used to hit the skin to promote blood flow. This practice is still practiced in some countries today after a sauna session. Pendula means ‘pending’ in Latin. That is a reference to the way the branches hang on the tree. In addition to the rough birch, the downy birch can be used for the same medicinal purposes. This is called in Latin: Betula Pubescens . Pubescens means ‘down’ and refers to the fact that the leaves are covered with a kind of puberty down. Dutch has a fair number of nicknames for rough birch: Common birch, White birch, Silver birch, Weeping birch, Berk, Downy birch, Barkenboom, Belboom, Berke, Besemboom, Bessemrijs, Bilk, Bilkeboom, Birkebom and Bölk.

Male birch flower / Source: Miika Silfverberg, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-2.0)

History of birch as a medicinal tree

Most medicinal plants come from China, India, Arabia, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt and Sumeria. They have often been used for thousands of years and there are written sources about them. The birch does not suffer this fate. This is because the birch grows in the north of Europe, including in the Netherlands. Until the Middle Ages, very few things were put down on paper. In Germanic mythology, the birch was the tree of Donar, the god of thunder and lightning. In Celtic tradition, the birch symbolized renewal or rebirth. According to the Celts, it is the tree of December/January, the time when the sun is ‘born again’. In Siberian shamanic cultures, the birch was related to the fly agaric. This hallucinogenic mushroom was used by shamans. The birch and the fly agaric have a symbiotic relationship with each other; fly agaric grows on the birch. The silver bark of the birch symbolizes light. The birch sap, birch water or birch blood was drunk as a purifying drink. Hildegard von Bingen pointed out the wound-healing effect of birch flowers in the 12th century. In folk medicine, birch was mainly used for rheumatism, blood purification and fluid retention. Berkewater was used as a hair growth agent. It protects against kidney and bladder stones. In Russia and Scandinavia, birch was known as a remedy for arthritis, osteoarthritis and gout.

Active ingredients birch leaves and buds

The leaf of the birch is mainly used. The bark is less medicinal. The buds are just as medicinal as the leaves. In the spring you can tap birch water from the tree. It is drinkable and very healthy. The leaves and buds contain the following substances: flavonoids such as hyperoside, arabinosides, galactosides of quercetin, rutin, quercitrin, kaemferol, myricetin, catecin, epicatechin and bi- and triflavenoid procyanidins. It also contains some essential oils, tannins, phenolic acids, saponins, bitter substances, vitamins B3, C and beta-carotene, and some minerals, most of which are potassium.

Birch, good for edema

Birch leaf is a diuretic without irritating the kidneys. It increases the flushing of the urinary tract. It helps prevent kidney stones and removes kidney stones. The essential oil has a mild antibacterial effect on the urinary tract. Because of these medicinal properties, birch leaf is prescribed by herbalists for the following indications:

Birch without leaves / Source: Maplan, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

  • Edema, lymphedema, edema around ankles,
  • Edema due to varicose veins,
  • Prevention of kidney and bladder stones, kidney and bladder grit prevention,
  • Prevention of bladder infection,
  • Renal pelvic inflammation,
  • urethral inflammation,
  • Adjuvant for insufficient renal function,
  • Adjuvant for low urine production,
  • Aid for obesity due to fluid retention,
  • Adjuvant for cellulite,
  • Adjuvant for high blood pressure.

In case of edema due to kidney or heart failure, birch should only be used if prescribed by a doctor.

Birch, good for purification

The birch is uric acid floating. Betulinic acid makes birch leaves anti-inflammatory. It is also a blood purifier in that it removes waste products and toxins. The combination of these medicinal properties make it an anti-rheumatic medicine. It is prescribed for:

Berkeblad / Source: Brosen, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-2.5)

  • Gout,
  • Too high uric acid level,
  • Osteoarthritis and arthritis,
  • Sciatica,
  • Spring treatments, cleansing treatments,
  • Swollen and inflamed lymph nodes,
  • It is an adjunct to skin conditions such as eczema, dewworm, acne and chronic rashes.


Other medicinal effects Birch leaf

  • Because birch has a diaphoretic and antipyretic effect, it is used for febrile conditions.
  • Since birch promotes bile secretion and digestion, it is used for liver insufficiency and indigestion.
  • Externally: Birch water and birch leaf infusions can be used for hair and scalp.
  • Externally: Because it is diaphoretic, you can treat sweaty feet with birch bark.
  • Externally: Due to the reasons that birch leaf supports collagen production, it is an antioxidant and this tree inhibits inflammation, it is a remedy for cellulite, premature wrinkles and sun wrinkles.


Consult a herbal therapist

Anyone who wants to use birch as a medicinal remedy is recommended to consult a herbal therapist. Birch extracts and medicines in the form of mother tincture, powder, dried herb, liquid extract and decoction should only be used on the prescription of authorized persons. A herbal therapist can tell you more about this, as well as about possible side effects and interactions with other medicines or herbs. There are also beneficial combinations with herbs. Some herbs can enhance each other’s effects; that’s called synergy. All medicinal effects of this medicinal herb mentioned in this article are based on scientific research and come from Geert Verhelst’s Large Handbook of Medicinal Plants, a standard work in the field of healing plants. The book is used in phytotherapy.

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