Your Guide to the Uses and Benefits of Birch Essential Oil
Birch essential oil is derived from sweet birch trees that have been commonly used in North American folk medicine. The tree’s leaves and twigs were used in tea concoctions created to treat urinary tract infections and lower blood cholesterol. The bark of the sweet birch trees was either boiled or distilled to be used as an astringent and antiseptic topical medicine. It was also used in ointments to treat skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.
This widespread use of birch trees in traditional medicine spurred an interest in finding a scientific basis for these uses. As a result, in recent years, researchers have investigated the role of birch trees as a medicinal plant, revealing their properties as an antiseptic, disinfectant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic.
Birch Essential Oil Origins
Birch essential oil is extracted from the bark of Betula lenta trees, commonly referred to as sweet birch, black birch, or cherry birch. The plant belongs to the birch, or the Betulaceae, family, and has around 150 species of deciduous trees and shrubs. Betula lenta trees grow to heights of around 50 to 70 meters. The stems of the trees are brown to black in color, with scaly bark.
The trees are native to the northeastern United States, and are commonly found in the Appalachian mountains. The bark of the trees makes up around 10 percent of the waste product of processed birch trees, and is used to extract the essential oil. The method used to derive the oil is solvent extraction.
Birch Essential Oil Aroma and Appearance
The essential oil of sweet birch is a dark liquid, as it is derived from the cherry-colored bark. The oil has a wintergreen scent that can be described as sweet, warm, and spicy. The scent also has a camphoraceous and minty hint. When compared with other tree oils, the aroma of birch essential oil is unique as it is not woody, but rather minty.
Betula lenta essential oil, with its sweet and slightly minty aroma, blends well with the earthy and resinous scents of amber, frankincense, and patchouli essential oils.
Comparing Sweet Birch Essential Oil With Other Birch Varieties
While there are many birch varieties, Betula lenta and Betula alba are the most commonly used to extract essential oils. As many essential oils of the birch variety are labeled ‘birch essential oil’ or ‘sweet birch essential oil,’ it is important to know the scientific name of the tree the oil is extracted from.
Betula lenta essential oil shares some pharmacological properties with the Betula alba variety, such as astringent, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. However, Betula lenta exhibits a stronger analgesic effect among the two.
Betula alba is also known as white birch, European birch, and silver birch. Compared to Betula lenta essential oil, it is slightly more viscous in texture and appears a darker brown. Its aroma is woody and slightly balsamic, lacking the minty, camphoraceous notes in Betula lenta essential oil.
The bioactive compounds of both essential oils have been backed by scientific research; however, Betula lenta has a more prominent role in history as a medicinal herb. This led to much of the study on Betula lenta examining its chemical profile and therapeutic effects.
Additionally, the Betula lenta essential oil is more commercially prominent and is better available in the market.
Birch Essential Oil Therapeutic Potential
The bark of the Betula lenta plant comprises many compounds with medicinal benefits, such as flavonoids, glycosides, sterols, tannins, terpenes, and saponins. Some specific chemical compounds with prominent benefits are methyl salicylate, benzoic acid, benzaldehyde, betulin, cinnamic acid, and lupeol. The following sections highlight the scientific research that is conducted on the therapeutic effects of sweet birch essential oil.
May Relieve Muscle and Joint Pain
The sweet birch essential oil is composed mostly of an organic compound known as methyl salicylate, at 99 percent. The compound works to reduce pain through two main mechanisms: stimulation of nerves and opening of the blood vessels. First, it stimulates the nerves that are closer to the surface of the skin. These nerves then communicate with nerves in deeper muscles where the pain is localized.
Then, methyl salicylate acts as a vasodilator, opening up the blood vessels and increasing blood flow. This process, combined with stimulation of the nerves, may ease pain in the deeper muscles. As a result, sweet birch essential oil is a natural analgesic that can alleviate pain.
This quality makes sweet birch essential oil potentially quite useful in managing symptoms of arthritis, bruising, and nerve pain. To use, apply diluted birch essential oil topically to the affected area. For the best results, blend with a soothing carrier oil, such as coconut, and reapply twice per day until the pain subsides.
Aids in Maintaining Oral Hygiene
When it comes to maintaining oral hygiene, commercial oral rinses are a go-to option because of their convenience. In some individuals, commercial oral rinses may cause irritation and dry mouth as they contain artificial colors, synthetic chemicals, and alcohol. As an organic alternative, birch essential oils can be used to prepare an oral rinse.
Methyl salicylate, and essential oils that are dominated with methyl salicylate, have been studied extensively for their antibacterial and cleansing properties. Results of the research demonstrated significant antibacterial activity, making sweet birch essential oil useful for fighting bacterial growth, preventing gum disease, and reducing bad breath. If used regularly, the essential oil may even prevent inflammation of the gums and the progression of periodontal diseases.
To use for maintaining oral health, add 2-3 drops of sweet birch essential oil in a glass of water and swish the rinse around your mouth. Make sure that you spit out the rinse after. Be careful not to ingest any of the oil.
May Promote Recovery of Minor Wounds
Throughout history, people have employed many medicinal plants to heal open wounds; however, sweet birch stands out in terms of its scientifically verified and exceptional healing potential.
It contains mostly methyl salicylate, a potent antimicrobial compound, along with anti-inflammatory compounds, such as betulin, lupeol, and cinnamic acid. These bioactive compounds are crucial for wound healing as a result of their mechanisms of action.
When a wound is formed, it is susceptible to bacterial infections, which then impairs healing. Sweet birch essential oil has the pharmacological property of preventing bacterial infections and hence creating a local environment that promotes wound healing. In addition, the anti-inflammatory compounds it contains can help reduce the discomfort caused by a prolonged inflammatory response. Excessive inflammation in response to an injury may disrupt the healing process, causing scarring.
Sweet birch essential oil can be used to treat wounds topically. Dilute the essential oil in jojoba oil and apply it to the affected skin. Make sure to patch-test the blend before use to ensure that your body does not have an adverse reaction.
Enhances Scalp Health and May Alleviate Dandruff
Although less commonly used for this purpose, sweet birch essential oil can be useful in improving scalp health, and reducing the severity and symptoms of dandruff. The essential oil comprises compounds with oil-reducing, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Dandruff is mostly exacerbated by a buildup of cells and oil pooling on the surface of the scalp. Sweet birch essential oil has tannins with astringent properties that dry out oil. This prevents the cells from sticking together, reducing the chances of inflammation and bacterial infection in the hair follicles. As a result, sweet birch essential oil may help prevent dandruff.
When it comes to treating dandruff, the compounds methyl salicylate and ethyl salicylate work to reduce redness, itchiness, and inflammation in the scalp. These compounds also have a vasodilating effect, bringing increased blood flow to the scalp and improving hair growth.
To use sweet birch essential oil for the hair and scalp, you can make a hair rinse. Combine 4-5 drops of sweet birch essential oil in apple cider vinegar and leave in your hair for a minute. To rinse out, wash your hair with a sulfate-free shampoo for optimal benefits.
Ensuring Safety When Using Birch Essential Oil
Birch essential oil contains 99 percent methyl salicylate, which is a compound that can be harmful or even poisonous when ingested in large amounts. It is never advisable to ingest birch essential oil for any purpose.
Pregnant women, children, and pets are advised to keep away from sweet birch essential oil, even when it is being used for topical purposes.
Always remember to dilute sweet birch essential oil when applying it to the skin. Also, make sure to patch-test it before use.
Final Words on the Benefits of Birch Essential Oil
Due to its high methyl salicylate content, sweet birch essential oil is uniquely suited to healing wounds, treating injuries, and reducing pain in muscles and joints. In many commercial birch oils, this natural ester is replaced with a synthetic methyl salicylate compound, adulterating the essential oil.
As a result, it is important that you obtain sweet birch essential oil from sellers that are transparent about their sourcing methods, like Wholesale Botanics. Also, look out for the scientific name of the birch essential oil you purchase, as many varieties are sold under the same common name.
Overall, while sweet birch essential oil has many scientifically backed medicinal benefits, it is essential to recognise that individual reactions might vary. Consumers are encouraged to consider consulting a healthcare professional before introducing sweet birch essential oil into their healthcare regimen.