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The Healing Medicine Of Trees - Birch
The Healing Medicine Of Trees - Birch

Trees are the Ancient Ones, the Standing Ones, and some of the most fascinating of all plants. The lore surrounding any one type of tree – even some individual trees – is vast.

I devoted 2022 to the trees, as did Arbor Day. Arbor means tree. Arboreal animals live in tres. Arboretums are gardens showcasing trees. Arbor Day celebrated its 150th anniversary this year. A good year for trees.

My radio show focused on trees during 2022; and will do so again in 2023, with a whole new cast of trees. These shows are archived and available to my mentored students at

Let's look at one of my favorite northern trees, instantly recognizable to everyone: birch.

BIRCH (Betula) is the tree of beginnings. Birch was the first tree to take hold as the glaciers retreated after the last ice age. Birch is one of the first trees to grow in disturbed soils.

Birch (Beth) begins the ogam alphabet.

A birch tree in your dream is a strong indication that you are beginning a new aspect of your life, or that new spiritual understandings await you.

In Sanskrit, birch is burgha, meaning "that which is good to write upon." The use of birch bark as a writing material predates paper, and was most likely the model for papermaking. Magic spells may be written on birch bark.

Birch is the "way shower."

Birch is the sky ladder of the Siberian shaman.

Birch is the cradle for the newborn.

Birch twigs are used to whip the skin in Scandinavian saunas; a kind of rebirth.

Birch twigs are used to light the sacred fires in Wales.

Birch torches were used to "beat the boundaries" at winter solstice throughout old Europe.

Birch is safety and warmth in the cold.

Birch bark will burn whether wet or dry. This knowledge has saved my life at least once in high mountains when hypothermia threatened. Because it is pliable when fresh, it may be fashioned into containers which preserve food. Strangely enough, a simple birch bark cup can be used over an open fire to boil water without bursting into flames.

There are many Native American stories in which birch saves the Day. The European fairy tale we know as Cinderella is based on an older Russian story in which a woman becomes a birch tree in order to take care of her orphaned daughter. (Disney left out the tree, alas.)

Notice that the wood of birch rots away quickly while the bark remains intact, often in one piece, for many years due to its unique ability to prevent rot.

* Birch bark is antiseptic and probably antifungal.

* Birch leaves – collected in the spring only – can be used to make a tea which eases sore throats, bleeding gums, sores in the mouth, constipation, gout, rheumatism, kidney stones, and bladder problems. The tea has a slightly sedative effect and eases sore muscles, too.

* Older birch leaves can be added to a hot bath or made into a strong brew and poured into the tub to heal moist, oozing skin conditions.

* Recent studies have found an anticancer compound in birch sap: betulinic acid.

* Birch beer is made by fermenting birch sap; but I've been told the trees do not appreciate being tapped. Unlike maples, who gladly share their sap, birches can't heal the wound of the hole drilled to access sap and can slowly  bleed to death from the wound.

* Birch vinegar is traditionally made by fermentation.

Sweet birch is my favorite of the birches. It smells of wintergreen and is used commercially to produce essential oil of wintergreen. A hot water infusion of the twigs gathered before they leaf out is what I use as a household cleanser. It is safe for children to drink, I drink it, while being the most effective way I've found to loosen and remove grease and grime. I put a handful of spring twigs (in bud, no leaves) in a quart jar and fill with boiling water, then use the liquid to get rid of yuck. I pour more boiling water on the same twigs after using the first quart. It gets stronger the more often it is rebrewed, up to thirty times.

Birch wood is light in weight and light in color. It is favored in the manufacture of electric guitars and veneers.

Who can fail to be moved by the mystery of a white-barked birch shining under the light of the full moon on a snowy winter night? To delve deeper into the magic and mystery of birch, meditate with it, breathe with it, listen to it, and be open to the messages that it has to share with you.

Every breath is a give away dance of joy. Green blessings surround us.

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