This is the first of my series of posts introducing the Lead Plants that inspire the Weleda ranges. If you want to jump straight to my review of the range, please visit: Spring Cleanse & Detox with Weleda Birch range.
The Silver Birch (Betula pendula) is the inspiration for Weleda’s Detox and Cleansing range and as Weleda sources its birch leaves from the Czech Republic. What better lead photo to use than from Weleda CZ themselves?
Birch, a tree of cleansing and new beginnings
Birch is a native of the Northern Hemisphere. It is a fast growing, but relatively short-lived tree and considered a “pioneer species”, being one of the first trees to colonise clearings or the edge of a forest. It is tall and slender, with thin, often pendulous twigs (hence its Latin name). With its paper-like silvery white bark (that gives it its common name) it is an easy tree to recognise.
Its status as a “pioneer species” was recognised by people of times past and in the Ogham alphabet, “Beith” (birch) is the first letter and is associated with beginnings. The birch also appears in Futhark (Norse runic alphabet) where it is also associated with purification and new beginnings (the cleansing of the old to make way for the new). The birch also appears in countless folklore and mythology in the Northern Hemisphere. It has associations with the goddess Venus in Roman Mythology, who in turn is associated with the feminine, healing, grace, movement and delicacy (and, indeed, the Silver Birch exudes grace and delicate movement, dancing in the sunlight of open glades).
Although slender of frame, the Silver Birch has a pale, dense and heavy wood, popular for making furniture. It is a traditional wood used for May Poles. The brushwood is used for, well, brushes – as in the besom (broom). The resin makes a waterproof glue and, indeed, the bark (due to its resin content) is useful to make waterproof vessels and as a firelighter or torch. Artists such as Jane Bevan (1), who lives and works not far from Weleda’s HQ in Derbyshire, use birch bark to make unique sculptures. Silver Birch is a tree of many uses!
It has a close relationship with a number of fungi – including the well-known Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) – and these mycorrhizal relationships improve the available nutrients in the soil. Knowing this, Weleda gardeners try to build their compost heaps close to the birch.
In spring, large quantities of sap rise and some 400 litres are circulated in a day. The sap can be tapped (in the same way as maples are to make the better known maple syrup) and is sometimes fermented to make wine and beer.
Birch accumulates and deposits more potassium salts from its sap into its bark than any other tree. This leaves the salt free proteins to collect in the leaves. As with the tree, drinking Birch leaf tea helps stimulate the excretion of salt and water in the body. The leaves are packed with anti-oxidants said to combat the free radicals contribute to cell damage.
In traditional medicine Silver Birch is used as a diuretic and has long had associations with cleansing and purification. Some physical examples of this are:
- Besoms made from its wood used to sweep out the “negative energies” in a room.
- “Vihta” or “vasta” – boughs of silver birch used to beat oneself after a sauna. The national tree of Finland is the Silver Birch.
- The birch rod, used in past times as a form of corporal punishment to “purify” misdeeds.
All point to historic traditional uses of the birch.
In addition to the properties of its leaves, the outer part of the bark of the Silver Birch contains up to 20% betulin. Betulin has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties (2) and is said to help with the repair of sun-damaged skin.
FOLLOWING NATURAL RHYTHMS
Many people have heard of seven year life cycles, even if it is solely from the term “the seven year itch”. These seven year cycles continue throughout life, influencing the changes we experience. Before the age of 35, our lives are governed more by anabolic (upward) forces (those that push us to grow and mature). But from 35 years, what have been predominantly anabolic forces, give way to the catabolic (downward). Good health can be seen as a balancing of these forces and/or the balance of purification and elimination. The Silver Birch is our aid in this balance.
As a tree associated with purification, cleansing and beginnings, the Silver Birch is also associated with Spring. It is in Spring-time that our bodies would most often benefit from a “Spring clean” cleanse or detox. As such, Weleda has produced a range of products suitable for use at this time: Spring Cleanse & Detox with Weleda Birch range.
REFERENCES and further Links
- http://www.janebevan.co.uk/ Artist using natural and found materials.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4667568/ Recent studies on betulinic acid and its biological and pharmacological activity
- https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/native-trees/silver-birch/ Woodland Trust article on the Silver Birch
- https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/feb/01/how-to-make-birch-sap-wine Guardian article on making birch sap wine