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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BIRCH TREE - POETS' MUSE: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF THE BIRCH TREE


WHITE BIRCH, SILVER BIRCH, BETULA ALBA, BETULA PENDULA
The white or silver Birch tree is a common sight in Europe, and native to many European countries including the British Isles, growing from the Italian island of Sicily through to Iceland, and it is also a native of  Northern Asia. Betula was the Latin name for this tree, and pendula refers to the way the branches of birch trees tend to droop, while alba means white. The name birch may have come from Sanskrit bhurga and then it would mean the “tree whose bark was used for writing on” as birch bark can be used for this purpose. It also derives from the Anglo-Saxon, beorgan which of course is closer to the Sanskrit word and means ‘to protect or shelter.’
   It has been used for centuries for a variety of ailments and researchers are currently investigating the properties of betulin and betulinic acid obtained from the bark of the tree to discover if they have anti-tumour properties in people as they have demonstrated such properties in the lab. It is also thought that betulinic acid might help in the treatment of HIV.
  Apart from its uses in medicine the young branches and twigs are used in Scandinavia after saunas to promote blood circulation. These were also used in the past as rods by schoolmasters to chastise children. They were also used as whips and the phrase to “give someone the birch” means to use the branches of this tree to whip someone.  Shakespeare alludes to this use of the birch in his play “Measure for Measure.”
  The birch has also inspired poets, both in Europe and North America. Robert Frost’s poem, “Birches” is perhaps the most famous: _
    “When I see birches bend to left and right
     Across the lines of straighter, darker trees,
     I like to think that some boy’s been swinging on hem
                 ………………
     One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”
In 1802 the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote “The Picture or The Lover’s Resolution” in which he calls the birch:
    “…most beautiful
    Of forest trees, the Lady of the Woods”
He mentions birches in yet another poem, “The Ballad of the Dark Ladie”:
    “Beneath you birch with silver bark
     And boughs so pendulous and fair,
     The brook falls scattered down the rock
     And all is mossy there.”
Other British Romantic poets also include the birch in their poetry, with John Keats in the fragment we have left of “Calidore” calls it the “delicate tree” and Wordsworth in his Sonnet to “The River Duddon” mentions the colour of the birch trunks:-
   “…ashes flung their arms around;
    And birch trees risen in silver colonnades”
These trees also figure in his poem “An Evening Walk”
    “Where, mixed with graceful birch, the sombrous pine
      And yew-tree o’er the silver rocks recline”
 F.S. Flint in the early 20th century in his Poems in Unrhymed Cadence has this to say of the birch
  “London, my beautiful,
    it is not the sunset,
    nor the pale green sky
    shimmering through the curtain
    of the silver birch”
In “The Cuckoo Wood” by Edmund Beale Sargant, there are these lines about the birch;-
    “A stranger wood you shall not find!
      Beech and birch and oak agree
      Here to dwell in company.
        .     .     .     .     .      .    .
      Silver birch would you endeavour
      Trembling in your bridal dress
      To win at last a dog’s caress?”
Clearly the tree is beautiful to have inspired such lines.
 In spring the birch flowers appear and hang from the twigs like “lamb’s tails” which is the popular name for these catkins. The young shoots and leaves produce a resinous substance which is used as a laxative, purifier and tonic in spring, and the tree, when tapped exudes a sugary substance which has been made into beer, wine and spirits in Europe for centuries.
   The birch tree is a powerful symbol in Celtic and Scandinavian mythology as they are among the first trees to come into leaf in the spring. They were associated with the Scandinavian goddesses Freya, Frigga and the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, Eoster from whose name the word Easter comes. In Celtic mythology birch trees are symbols of fertility and were used in Beltane (Midsummer) celebrations and Beltane fires in Scotland used to be made from birch and oak branches. They were associated with the White Goddess, who was both the life giver and bringer of death when she appeared in the form of a crone or the carrion eating sow.
   At one time in Britain birch branches were decorated with red and white cloth at Beltane and used to prop shut stable doors to prevent horses being hag-ridden, (it was believed that witches would steal the horses and ride them until they were so fatigued that they could die) or having their manes tangled and knotted by mischievous fairies.
   In the early 19th century people of the lower classes would consider themselves married if they jumped over a broom made from birch twigs and branches that was held over a threshold.
   At Samhein, the beginning of the Celtic New Year, birch brooms were used to expel the old year and any evil that was left over from the past and clean and purify dwellings.
  Botanists believe that the birch was the first tree to colonize what would have been a very barren landscape after the last Ice Age, as they are a very hardy, resilient tree so regard them as a “pioneer species.”
   Birch branches used to be used in thatching and were the wattles in wattle and daub walls and ceilings. Birch oil has been used in tanning to make leather resistant to mould, and this was used especially in Russia and books bound in what was called “Russia leather” did not decay as fast as other books in the days when they were mainly bound in leather. The oil was also used as an insect repellant and could be used on the skin to stop insects biting. It was good for skin problems as it has astringent properties and is used to treat warts and eczema. A decoction of birch bark can also be made for skin problems as can the tisane.
   The leaves can be made into a tisane and used to treat gout and arthritis as it seems to dissolve the toxic substances which accumulate around the joints. It was also used to disperse kidney stones. A decoction of the inner bark was used to reduce fevers and the spring sap which exudes from the trees was considered a diuretic and excellent spring tonic. This and the bark are believed to have sedative qualities.
  The Physicians of Myddfai had this remedy for impotence: - "For impotency. Take some birch, digest in water, and drink."
  The oil from young birch leaves blends well with oils of jasmine, rosemary and sandalwood and can be used in bath water to relieve muscle pains. It has pain relieving properties as well as being antiseptic and astringent among others and is good for arthritis and rheumatism. It can be used like wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) oil in massage treatment. Birch buds in a decoction or tisane are believed to promote hair growth and get rid of dandruff if used in a rinse. You can also put the bruised leaves or powdered ones in bath water to relieve pains.
  The leaves contain vitamin C and saponins and flavonoids.

BIRCH BARK TISANE
Ingredients
1 tsp birch bark
1 cup boiling water

Method
Pour the boiling water over the birch bark and leave to steep for 15 mins. Strain and drink.
You can drink 2-5 cups a day. It is also good to used externally for skin problems.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).
 


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