Birch is a Tree Medicine with extensive folklore, traditional uses and medicinal compounds. A promising therapeutic for various conditions, including cervical cancer.
Traditional Names & Species
Traditional North American Names for Birch
Tli cho, Chipewyan: k’i - Gwich’in: aat’oo - Cree: wuskwi-atik - Inuvialuktun: urgiiliq
There are numerous species of Birch across the globe. Many are native, others naturalized, and some are ornamental.
Betula. papyracea (Paper Birch/White Birch), B. occidentalis (Water Birch) and B. lenta (Sweet Birch) are found across North America.
B. aetnensis (Etna Birch) is a unique species to Sicily that has adapted to the climate and volcanic soil of that territory.
B. nana (Smooth Dwarf Birch) Moxa is prepared and regarded as an effective remedy in all painful diseases. The leaves are said to dye a better yellow than the Common Birch. The seeds are a principal food of Ptarmigan in Lapland.
Betula platyphylla in northern Asia and Betula szechuanica of central Asia are also treated as varieties of silver birch, as B. pendula var. platyphylla and B. pendula var. szechuanica , respectively.
Traditional Uses & Folklore
First Nations peoples of North America used Birch tree medicine for treating skin sores, colds and digestive disturbances. They also depended on Birch to create containers, artistic designs and pictographic scrolls.
In Scandinavia, Silver Birch (Betula alba) has been used to treat mouth sores, subcutaneous infections and to ward off evil spirits. In Sweden, the bark of birch trees was ground up and used to make bark bread, a famine food. The removal of bark was so widespread that concern was expressed for the survival of the woodlands.
In Norse and Germanic traditions, the Birch energy connects to the feminine aspects of the universe and within oneself.
The Celts identify the birch tree with the virgin Goddess Brigid.
In Siberia, the tree is regarded as the sacred world tree that is the bridge between this world and the spirit realm. It is said that the tree is inseparable from the Russian people, as it is their most poetic tree.
Birch is a cooling, bitter and astringent plant. The leaves and bark are both used medicinally. Birch leaves and bark is a herbal medicine I always have stocked in my dispensary as it has specific and unique applications. Below are a few main ways I use Birch in my practice.
Birch bark is one of my go-to therapeutics for UTIs due to its antiseptic and diuretic qualities. Birch is also an antilithic, which means she can be helpful to clear and reduce the occurrence of kidney stones with the appropriate protocol.
Birch's inflammatory modulating, analgesic salicylates, and diuretic properties can effectively treat the inflammation and pain associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid osteoarthritis, MS, gout and generalized muscle pain.
The antibacterial, inflammatory modulating and astringent qualities of Birch support the traditional uses. Birch is effective topically in inflammatory skin disorders such as boils, cystic acne, dermatitis and vitiligo. The essential oil should be avoided in the direct application as it can be too volatile.
Our Sweet Birch soap is made using infused Birch bark, leaves and extracts, making it a therapeutic soap for all skin types including troubled skin.
Betulin and betulinic acid, both present in birch bark, display anticancer and anti-tumour properties. My practice focus on using Birch for dermatological and reproductive cancers based on the extensive research to support its effectiveness in treatment.
Birch Therapeutic Research
The popularity of Birch in western herbal medicine created an interest and increased research to understand further the role the herb plays. Multiple studies have concluded that Betula has antiviral, anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antitumoral activity. Betulinic acidʼs antitumor activity is one of the most widely studied aspects of the compoundʼs pharmacology. Exploring and interpreting a few studies will allow for a better understanding of its mechanism of action.
Cervical cancer is the third most common type of tumour in women, and current treatments have severe adverse effects. A therapeutic which proves to be safe and effective in the treatment of cervical cancer is imperative. A study that investigated Betulinic acid-induced apoptosis of human cervical cancer HeLa cells showed promising evidence that the betulinic acid in Betula has anticancer functions in human cells (Xu et al., 2014). The effectiveness against the human cervical cancer cell line (HeLa) appears due to its apoptosis effect and angiogenesis ability. These mechanisms suppress the cancer cells and deprive them of blood which they need to survive and grow.
There were multiple testing methods used, such as cell culture and proliferation assay, which within several hours of its incubation period changed the concentration of betulinic acid and inhibited cell growth by 50% even after its determinations were done multiple times. The protein induced by BA found that protein profiling (PH 4-7) regulated protein in BA-treated cells. Betulinic acid expressed a potent inhibitory effect on HeLa cell growth (30 mmol/mL), and 36 differentially expressed proteins were identified in HeLa cells after exposure to BA using both 2-DE and MADLI-TOF analysis. Proteomic studies also confirmed that BA-induced apoptosis involved molecular alterations in ROS generation and related regulatory proteins in HeLa cells (Xu et al., 2014). In other words, most of the proteins involved biological processes, and molecular functions were down-regulated in BA-treated HeLa cells compared to control cells. Interestingly, betulinic acid is toxic to cancer cells but has not been shown to have adverse effects on untransformed cells (Medema 2007). Betula is an effective treatment for cervical cancer with no notable adverse side effects and, therefore, highly beneficial for women affected with this condition.
In vitro studies have also shown that this constituent is potently effective against a wide variety of cancer cells, including melanoma, leukemia, colon carcinoma, lung carcinoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate carcinoma and multiple myeloma (Zuco et al., 2002),(Y, R and JM, 2003), (Rios and Máñez, 2017). Based on these findings, Betula's active constituent betulin is a safe and effective treatment for various cell abnormalities.
In conclusion, a variety of research shows the components in Betula alba, with significant findings supporting its anti-tumour effects and can therefore be a foundation for treating cervical cancers and various diseases.
Contra-indications & Cautions
Hypersensitivity to birch pollen or to Birch itself as well as a Salicylate sensitivity/allergy.
Conditions where a reduced fluid intake is recommended (e.g. severe cardiac or renal disease).
The use of birch preparations is not recommended in children and adolescents under 18 years of age. Birch is best avoided in digestive complaints.
Always work with a registered herbalist when using Birch internally or when on
pharmaceuticals. Reach out anytime to learn more about how herbal medicine can support you.
Kessler, J., Mullauer, F., de Roo, G. and Medema, J., 2007. Broad in vitro efficacy of plant-derived betulinic acid against cell lines derived from the most prevalent human cancer types. [online] Available at: <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17169485/>
Y, T., R, Y. and JM, P., 2003. Betulinic acid-induced programmed cell death in human melanoma cells involves mitogen-activated protein kinase activation. [online] PubMed. Available at: <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12855667/>
Rios, J. and Máñez, S., 2017. New Pharmacological Opportunities for Betulinic Acid. [online] Thieme-connect.com. Available at: <https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/pdf/10.1055/s-0043-123472.pdf>
Şoica, C., Dehelean, C., Danciu, C., Wang, H., Wenz, G., Ambrus, R., Bojin, F. and Anghel, M., 2012. Betulin Complex in γ-Cyclodextrin Derivatives: Properties and Antineoplasic Activities in In Vitro and In Vivo Tumor Models. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3509624/>
Zuco, V., Supino, R., Righetti, S., Cleris, L., Marchesi, E., Gambacorti-Passerini, C. and Formelli, F., 2002. Selective cytotoxicity of betulinic acid on tumor cell lines, but not on normal cells. [online] Available at: <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11734332/>
Xu, T., Pang, Q., Zhou, D., Zhang, A., Luo, S., Wang, Y. and Yan, X., 2014. Proteomic Investigation into Betulinic Acid-Induced Apoptosis of Human Cervical Cancer HeLa Cells. [online] Available at: <https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0105768>