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Red Birch

  • Betula lenta L.

Black Birch

  • Betula nigra L.
  • Betulaceae
  • Birch family

Common Names

herbsBlack birch
herbsCherry birch
herbsMahogany birch
herbsMountain mahogany
herbsSpice birch
herbsSweet birch

Parts Usually Used

Inner bark, small twigs, and leaves

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Black birch is a tree (this is the common birch tree) that grows 60-80 feet high; the bark is brown when the tree is young, dark gray later, and is horizontally striped. Bark is non-peeling, sweet, aromatic. On old trees the bark is more irregularly broken. The ovate, pointed leaves, 6 inches long, occur alternately in pairs and are finely serrate. The flowers grow in inconspicuous male catkins about 3 inches long and female catkins about 1 inch long, the male appearing in the fall and the female the following spring. The fruits are oblong, upright, 3/4 inch long. The bark and small twigs have a flavor similar to wintergreen.

Other varieties: marsh birch (B. pubescens); silver birch (B. pendula); and B. verrucossa.

Where Found

Found in rich woods; southern Quebec; southwestern Maine to northern Georgia, Alabama, north to eastern Ohio.

Medicinal Properties

Anthelmintic, astringent, diuretic, stimulant, diaphoretic, aromatic

Biochemical Information

Traces of essential oil (methyl salicylate), saponins, tannin, bitter principle, glycosides

Legends, Myths and Stories

The inner bark of both these trees contains an oil which is identical in flavor with the wintergreen plant (Gaultheria procumbens).

In Slavic and Germanic tradition the birch tree was special. It was believed that by being whipped with a birch rod before sunrise on Easter Sunday, a person could barter for health, transferring diseases to the birch branches; witches were said to ride birch brooms at their gathering on the Brocken in the Walpurgis night.

At Pentecost and on Corpus Christi Day, house entrances are decorated with birch branches.

The birch rod is the rod of the saying, "spare the rod and spoil the child". Birch rods were used by the schoolmasters of old to correct children. It was used in old Roman days as the bundle of twigs and with axes born in like manner as an ensign, they declared the punishment for lesser, and greater offenses, to the people.


Leaf tea is used for urinary problems and to expel intestinal worms. Inner bark tea used as mouthwash and taken internally for diarrhea, dysentery, cholera infantum, kidney stones, blood purifier, bowel problems, neuralgia, anti-inflammatory, muscle soreness and pain, gout, scrofula, rheumatism, and externally for sores, boils, canker sores in the mouth. An oil similar to oil of wintergreen can be distilled from the inner bark and twigs. Black birch sap (in springtime) is used for beer makings and flavorings. Used to make root beer. The tea is a pleasant drink in place of water for a time.

Formulas or Dosages

Decoction: use 1 tsp. inner bark or leaves with 1 cup boiling water. Take 1-2 cups a day.

Tincture: A dose is 1/4 to 1/2 tsp., 3 times a day.

How Sold

A type of oil of wintergreen


Essential oil is toxic. Easily absorbed through the skin. Fatalities reported.

Birch leaves should not be used to treat edema (collections of fluids) resulting from reduced cardiac or renal (kidney) activity.

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