The scent and flavor of birch has been a European and North American Indian favorite for centuries. Birch drinks were favored by those suffering from consumption because the natural aspirin, methyl salicylate, in the essential oil relieves pain and makes it easier to breathe.

Birch has many aromatherapy applications. This essential oil was the closely guarded secret ingredient in the formula for the popular nineteenth-century men’s fragrance Russian Leather, so named because the Russians used it to keep leather book bindings soft and free from insects and mold. European women scented their handkerchiefs in a perfume called Iceland Wintergreen that included birch and other essential oils.

The North American birch was the actual source of the wintergreen essential oil. Although the two plants are not closely related botanically, they share similar chemistry, so they also have the same properties, fragrance, and the same familiar flavor found in gum, candies, beverages, and many medicines.

Principal constituents of birch: Methyl salicylate, creosol, guaiacol

Scent of birch: It has a clean, sweet, sharp, invigorating, and minty scent, like chewing gum.

Therapeutic properties of birch: Astringent, antiseptic; promotes menstruation and alleviates joint pain

Uses for birch: In a massage oil or liniment, birch can be rubbed over painful areas to ease muscular and arthritic pain and stiffness. Alternatively, a couple drops of birch essential oil, along with a drop or two of another oil such as lavender to soften birch’s sharp scent, can be added to your bath for the same purpose.

This type of aromatherapy bath is also useful to increase circulation and promote menstruation, especially when delayed by physical or emotional stress. A salve or lotion containing birch essential oil softens the roughness caused by psoriasis, eczema, and other skin problems. Add two drops per ounce to your hair conditioner to help prevent dandruff.

Warnings for birch: Be sure not to overdo the suggested quantities of this potent essential oil, as it can be toxic in high doses. Since it smells like candy, store it safely away from children so they won’t be tempted to taste it.

To learn more about Aromatherapy and other alternative medicines, see:
  • Aromatherapy: Learn about aromatherapy, how it works, what part essential oils play, and how to use aromatherapy.
  • Essential Oils Profiles: We have collected profiles of dozens of plants that are used to produce essential oils. On these pages, you will learn the properties and preparations for the most popular essential oils.
  • How to Treat Common Conditions With Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy can be used to treat a number of conditions, from asthma to depression to skin problems. Here you will learn how to treat some common medical problems with aromatherapy.
  • Home Remedies: We have gathered over a hundred safe, time-tested home remedies for treating a wide variety of medical complaints yourself.
  • Herbal Remedies: Herbal remedies and aromatherapy can be very similar, and they stem from similar historic roots. On this page, you will find all of our herb profiles and instructions for treating medical problems with herbal remedies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association and editor of the American Herb Association Quarterly newsletter. A writer, photographer, consultant, and teacher specializing in aromatherapy and herbs for over 25 years, she has written several books, including Aromatherapy: The Complete Guide to the Healing Art and Pocket Guide to Aromatherapy, and has written over 150 articles for such magazines as New Age Journal, The Herb Companion, and New Herbal Remedies. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.