Handsome slender deciduous tree growing to a height of 100 ft (30 m). Has pale grey papery bark, toothed leaves, and catkins in spring.
Habitat & Cultivation
Silver birch is common in Europe, in temperate regions of Asia, and in North America. It flourishes in woods and thickets, and is also planted as a garden ornamental. The leaves are gathered in late spring.
History & Folklore
Silver birch has been used as a medicinal herb in northern Europe and Asia since the earliest times. Its name is thought to derive from the Sanskrit word bhurga, meaning “tree whose bark is used for writing on.” In the highlands of Scotland, silver birch sap—tapped in the spring—was drunk as a treatment for bladder and kidney complaints.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
An infusion made with silver birch leaves hastens the removal of waste products in the urine, and is beneficial for kidney stones and bladder stones (gravel), rheumatic conditions, and gout. The leaves are also used, in combination with diuretic herbs, to reduce fluid retention and swelling. Silver birch sap is a mild diuretic.
The oil distilled from the leaves is antiseptic and is commonly used in preparations to treat eczema and psoriasis. A decoction of silver birch bark can be used as a lotion for chronic skin problems. The bark can also be macerated in oil and applied to joints for the relief of rheumatism.
The Himalayan silver birch (B. utilis), a close relative, is used to treat convulsions, dysentery, hemorrhages, and skin diseases.