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.