Birch Leaf Overview
Birch trees (Betula spp.) are native to Europe, parts of Asia, and the Northern Hemisphere, in northern areas of temperate ecosystems and boreal climates. There are more than fifty species of birch trees globally, nineteen of which are native to the United States. Its leaves, bark, and buds of the trees are often used in Traditional Medicine for:
- joint pain
- kidney stones
- bladder stones
- urinary tract infections
General Information of Birch Leaf
Birch leaf is the common name for the leaves of the tree Betula pendula Roth or Betula pubescens Ehrh. Throughout history, birch bark was used in Traditional Medicine practices by North American indigenous people for treating superficial wounds by applying bark directly to the skin.
Birch leaf has also been proved as a weakly diuretic for irrigation of the urinary tract, especially in inflammation and renal gravel cases, and as an adjuvant in the treatment of bacterial infections and spasmodic disorders of the urinary tract (Blumenthal et al. 1998).
Birch leaves contain salicylates and exhibit both anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving characteristics. Therapeutically, birch leaves have been used in Traditional Medicine for joint pain ingested as a tea or used as an external rub. Birch extract administered topically is also effective in healing and protecting boils and sores.
Health Canada (2018a) monograph acknowledges evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of birch (Betula pendula) leaf for use in Herbal Medicine as a diuretic when provided at a crude dried equivalent dose of 0.6-9.0 g/day.
What Is Birch Leaf Used for?
In The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, Medical herbalist David Hoffmann writes, “Birch leaf is an effective remedy for cystitis and other urinary system infections and helps eliminate excess water from the body. Perhaps because of this cleansing, diuretic activity, the plant has been used to treat gout, rheumatism, and mild arthritic pain.”
Uses & Effectiveness of Birch Leaf Herb
Its additional anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and tonic actions have made the herb particularly useful in Traditional and modern Herbal medicine for:
- catarrh of the bladder
- kidney stones
- urinary gravel
- infections and irritability of the urinary system in general
Precautions of Birch Leaf Herb
Consult with a doctor before introducing birch leaf into your routine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as there is not enough knowledge surrounding its use in these circumstances.
Those allergic to wild carrots, mugwort, celery, and other spices could react to birch pollen. Birch pollen may also induce allergic reactions to those sensitive to other plants such as apples, soybeans, hazelnuts, and peanuts.
Side effects that have been reported with birch leaf medicines include:
diarrhea, feeling or being sick, and allergic reactions such as itching, rash, and stuffy and runny nose, although this frequency is unknown. (Source)
If you live with high blood pressure, speak with your health care provider before using birch leaf. There is some concern that it may increase the amount of sodium your body retains, which can worsen your blood pressure over time.
Herbal Benefits of Birch Leaf
1) Anti-Inflammatory for the Urinary Tract
In controlled and open clinical studies, birch leaf showed its usefulness as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent in patients experiencing urinary tract infections, cystitis, and other inflammatory illnesses. The German Commission E monograph also recommends the tea to prevent urinary tract gravel and treat bone and joint ailments. Birch leaf also contains allantoin, which soothes, strengthens, and tightens irritated and inflamed tissues such as those in the bladder and kidneys.
2) Tonic for the Urinary Tract and Bladder
Birch Leaf is traditionally used in Herbal Medicine as a urinary tract antiseptic to help relieve mild UTIs. It contains D-mannose, a natural sugar found in birch and beechwood trees. This sugar travels directly to the bladder, where it attaches to the walls forming a protective barrier and prevents bacteria from sticking. It is then flushed away, taking the bacteria with it.
3) Helps Irrigate/Flush Out the Urinary Tract
Birch seems to have the same effect as utilizing water pills. However, taking birch and other water pills together may cause the body to lose too much water.
Birch leaves are a common component of diuretic/urological combination products (Wichtl 2004), as they contain chemicals that flush out excess fluids, increasing the volume and frequency of urination. This is useful to flush out uric acid, toxins, and excess edematous fluids. Birch leaf wine is traditionally used in Germany as a diuretic in urinary tract disorders.
Are Birch Leaves Poisonous?
Birch leaves are safe for most adults when taken by mouth for short periods; however, they can cause allergic reactions in some people.
Can you Eat Birch Leaves?
Yes, birch leaves can be brewed into tea, and young leaves can be steamed or sauteed. You can also eat the twigs and young leaves of the birch tree when they bud in the spring.
What are Birch Leaves Good for?
The leaves of the birch tree are chock full of vitamin C. They are often used in Traditional Medicine to treat infections of the urinary tract that affect the kidney, bladder, ureters, and urethra. It is also used as a diuretic to increase urine output.
How To Make Birch Leaf Tea
It is quite simple to brew a cup of birch leaf tea. When collecting leaves in the spring for tea, you don’t need many for a cup; you only need about three young leaves for one serving. If the tree is producing pollen catskins, grab those as well to add into your tea… that is, if you’re not allergic! Once you’ve foraged your three leaves, steep them in a cup of freshly boiled water until the tea is to your liking.