Also known as the “Tree of Wisdom”, birch is one of the oldest and most beautiful trees. Fortunately, besides its appearance, it is also widely used in traditional medicine. It can be found in many forms and one of them is Birch essential oil, which is easy to use and buy.
The oil is similar to wintergreen in scent and benefits. This means birch is very popular and appreciated for its anti-inflammatory qualities. It is especially good at relieving joints and muscle pain. It can also keep them healthy. A bit of caution is in order when you use this oil, but more on that in the chapter that follows.
There are lots of things to be said about the oil of Birch. One of them is that there are several varieties that can be used in Aromatherapy with visible results. I will tell you more about these varieties in this article’s first chapter.
The second chapter, which is also the last one, is dedicated to its anti-inflammatory uses. You will get a few tips on how to make the best of this property to soothe any aching joints and muscles.
Sore muscles, aching joints or sprains will all get my attention there. Keep reading to find out how to prevent these conditions from happening and maintain their health.
Until then, let me begin with a bit of an interesting fact about birch…
Did You Know?
- Birch comes from the Sanskrit “bhurga” and it means “something on which one can write”. The bark of the birch has a paper-like appearance.
Facts You Should Know about Birch Essential Oils. The White and the Black Varieties
Botanical name: Betula pendula/ Betula lenta
Texture: Thin oil.
Aroma and Color: Minty, camphoraceous and pungent, with a clear or pale appearance.
This oil is extracted from the twigs, buds and bark of the white or silver birch (Betula pendula). The material is steam distilled, but it can also be macerated or infused in good quality vegetable oil.
This white birch tree is also known as the “Tree of Wisdom” or the “Lady of the Woods”. This last name refers to its beautiful aspect, which makes the tree great as a garden decoration.
But the white birch is not the only type of birch used for the extraction of essential oils. There’s also a black birch from which another type of oil comes to be. Its scientific name is Betula lenta, but its more popular names are Sweet, Black or Cherry Birch essential oil.
Before the bark is steam distilled, it usually is pulverized first. That will make it a lot easier to extract all the aromatic molecules, with all their properties.
Luckily, there’s no need to own fancy equipment to enjoy the benefits of Birch essential oil. You can make your own infused oil too. It involves some vegetable oil, birch bark or twigs and at least two weeks’ time for maceration. You can learn more about infusing oils in this article.
Because it’s a tree and so highly regarded almost everywhere, pure Birch oils are sometimes difficult to find. The demand is high and for that, tons of trees need to be cut down and distilled. This can be quite a challenge for producers, and so, many will alter their products.
Birch oils can be diluted with vegetable oils and sold like that. Or they can be mixed with oils like Wintergreen or even Camphor. So, make sure you trust your oils supplier and you choose your product by its Latin name!
Here’s more on how to choose the best quality essential oils for Aromatherapy purposes. Russia and Canada are two of the main Birch oil producers. Oils that come from these countries are usually the best quality.
Both oil types (Black and White Birch) are similar in properties and benefits. Only their chemical composition varies because of the geographical area (soil and climate). Both trees like temperate climates and grow everywhere in Asia, Europe and North America.
Any of the Birch essential oils can be used to relieve aching joints and muscles. They both have anti-inflammatory qualities, but above all, they contain mostly one chemical constituent. That constituent is called methyl salicylate, and it’s almost identical to aspirin. It most definitely has the same effects on the body.
What can methyl salicylate do? It acts as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. This means it is great to relieve joint pain and muscular cramps.
The other components are called pentacyclic triterpenes. They are intensely studied for their anti-cancer effects. These pentacyclic triterpenes found in Birch essential oil are:
- Betulinic acid.
They are both very strong anticancer agents found in high concentration in Birch oils.
Great caution should be used with oils high in methyl salicylate and salicylic acid like Birch or Wintergreen. An overdose may induce coma. It can also cause vomiting, dehydration, hyperventilation, fever and drowsiness.
Even though aspirin is generally regarded as safe even for pregnant women, it must still be taken with medical prescription. Each body has different needs and only a doctor might establish what they are in each case.
Birch essential oils are usually regarded as dangerous. It is because of their high content of methyl salicylate and salicylic acid. However, common sense (low to moderate (2.5%) doses are not dangerous, as long as they’re diluted. Birch oils need to be diluted with vegetable oils for skin applications.
Why Birch essential oil is considered dangerous and toxic?
In case you want to know why certain essential oils, including birch, are considered dangerous or toxic, there’s actually a simple explanation.
When you take an aspirin you know it’s a drug and you instinctively limit its use. You know it’s highly potent and one pill every few hours is enough to lower fever and headaches. The danger with essential oils is their liquid form! But why and how, right?
Well, people don’t usually realize the power behind a few drops of an essential oil. It is a concentrated substance, extracted from a lot of plant material. Just to make an idea, a drop of Peppermint oil equals 20 cups of peppermint tea! A drop of Rose essential oil (Otto) contains the essence of 50 or so rose flowers, and so on.
Because it’s liquid and it smells nice, it’s natural etc., Birch oil can easily be overdosed.
You can see now why a simple, small vial of Birch oil can be fatal in extreme situations. Please remember that a single drop of an essential oil is more than you can imagine!
When it comes to safety, you must always use the lowest dose. You should always start with less and gradually, work your way up to a moderate dose. In Aromatherapy, the lowest dose is a dilution of 0, 5%.
That means 3 drops of essential oil blended with 1 Oz. (30 ml) vegetable oil. You can go up to 6 drops of Birch oil per Oz of carrier oil. Robert Tisserand recommends a ratio of 2.5% at most.
- Never take this oil internally without medical approval!
- Never use it undiluted either.
- Perform an allergy test before the first use. Apply a diluted drop on the soft inside of the forearm and wait for a few hours for any skin reactions.
- Do not apply any blend containing Birch essential oil around the nose, eyes and mouth.
- Do not use on children or elderly, during pregnancy or nursing.
- Keep away from the reach of children as it may smell very appealing to them.
- People that suffer from epilepsy, asthma and hyperventilation (rapid heartbeat) should avoid using Birch oil.
- This oil mustn’t be mixed with medication for liver and blood thinning, or for any of the above mentioned conditions.
Now you know everything important about the aromatic oil of Birch. You know about the two common types of oil and the precaution measures to follow. This next chapter refers to practical uses of our oil for the soothing of joints and muscles.
Did You Know?
- Birch has been declared national tree in Finland and Russia. There, the tree has spiritual meaning and cultural significance.
How to Use, Tips and Blends for Healthier Joints and Pain-Free Muscles
Birch essential oil is only recommended mostly for topical applications. The French for instance, don’t recommend its internal consumption, inhalation or diffusion.
But since skin applications are the easiest to perform, it’s almost a relief for not being able to use it otherwise. I recommend you stick to this simple method when you want to use Birch oils.
First, make sure you’ve got the right oil, either the Black or the White variety, by their Latin name. Secondly, keep a good quality, unrefined vegetable oil at hand. It can be anything, from Olive oil to Jojoba or more precious ones, like Argan oil.
Since you’ll be using it for joints and muscle massages, I’d say Olive oil is quite good. Of course, don’t let the issue of vegetable oils stand in your way of getting the relief you’re looking for. You can use Sunflower oil too.
What makes this oil good at soothing and relieving inflamed joints and painful muscles is its ability to:
- Stimulate the blood circulation.
- Calm down cramps and spasms in the body.
- Reduce swelling (edema).
- Eliminate toxins and germs.
- Strengthen and tighten the muscles (because it’s astringent).
- Tone up the body and stimulate all vital processes.
- Purify the blood.
- Warm the skin and slightly numb the affected areas.
How to Use for Sore Muscles
All you need to do here is blend 1 – 2 drops of Birch essential oil with 1 Oz. (30 ml) vegetable oil. Adjust the quantity of Birch used depending on the severity of the muscle pain. Always keep in mind that high doses can be very toxic!
Massage the area gently, until the skin warms up. It would be better if you could keep the skin warm afterwards. That’s why such a massage would always be better before going to bed. If that’s not possible, just make sure the environment is warm enough. The oil will act faster that way, because the pores will open up easier.
How to Use for Sprains
A sprain is usually a violent twist or wrench of the ligaments (ankle, wrist, shoulders, etc.). It is characterized by swelling, redness and a lot of pain, but it’s not dislocated.
Birch essential oil can improve and stimulate the circulation in that area. It can also calm down that throbbing feeling and reduce the swelling. It can do all that and gently relieve the pain too.
You can make a simple blend just like above, or you can add other essential oils like Helichrysum. This one is also very good in these cases and deep wounds.
How to Use for Aching Joints
Whether it’s the weather, the age or the stress and strain of too much exercising, the joints can be very sensitive. They need lots of minerals, vitamins and essential fatty acids to maintain lubricated.
Besides a thorough check-up and a healthy intake of those necessary vitamins and acids, you can also apply an Aromatherapy blend.
You can blend Birch with Roman Chamomile and Cajeput oils into an ounce of vegetable oils. Try 1 drop of Birch, 3 of Chamomile and 2 of Cajeput and stir well before use. Apply a few times a day on the joints and try to keep them protected from too much movement and effort.
Even though there are a few things to take into consideration when using Birch oil, generally speaking it is safe in low dosages.
To conclude this post, I must remind you to take a good look at the Latin (botanical) name of the oil. You now know there are two common varieties, the White and the Black (Sweet) Birch essential oils. They’re both high in methyl salicylate, which makes them good at soothing inflammations and pain.
Your joints and muscles can greatly benefit from this aromatic oil, but use it with caution. Make sure you’re clear to use it first by performing an allergy test. If you’re not sure about its effects or dosage, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.
What is your opinion about the oil of Birch? Have you ever used it, and if so, was it a positive experience?