Himalayan Birch, Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, is a popular and extremely ornamental silver birch. Native to the Himalayas, it is medium-sized with an open habit and pyramidal shape. It bears almost shimmering white bark, which peels each year to reveal a fresh layer beneath. Its oval, dark green leaves turn gold in autumn before falling. Like all Birches, including our native Silver birch Betula pendula, Betula utilis var. jacquemontii thrives in most situations, but for best results grow this ornamental tree in moist but well-drained soil in sun to partial shade. It can be grown on its own as a focal point in the garden, or in groups to show off its incredible white bark. Betula utilis commonly known as Himalayan birch is a birch tree native to West Himalaya of Nepal and northern region in India growing at elevations up to 4,500 m (14,800 ft.). The tree is a member of the Betulaceae family of trees and is also closely related to the beech and oOak family. These trees can be found in temperate climes the world over and are particularly extensive throughout the Northern hemisphere. Genus name is the Latin name for Birch and specific epithet, "utilis", refers to the many uses of the different parts of the tree.
Himalayan birch is a fast growing, deciduous tree that grows about 20 m (66 ft.) tall with an open pyramidal habit. The plant is found growing in temperate broad-leaved forests and normally prefers medium to wet, well-drained loamy, sandy or rocky, heavy clay soils and dislikes wet soils. It often grows among scattered conifers, with an undergrowth of shrubs that normally includes evergreen Rhododendron. The tree depends on moisture from snowmelt, rather than from the monsoon rains. They often have very bent growth due to the pressure of the deep winter snow in the Himalaya. Plant has thin, papery bark which is very shiny, reddish brown, reddish white, or white, with horizontal lenticels. Bark peels off in broad, horizontal belts, making it very practical for creating even large pages for texts. Fungal growth, locally called bhurja-granthi, forms black lumps on the tree which weight up to 1 kg. The wood is very hard and heavy, and quite brittle. The heartwood is pink or light reddish brown.
Betula utilis was termed and named by botanist David Don in his Prodromus Florae Nepalensis in 1825, from specimens collected by Nathaniel Wallich in Nepal in 1820. The white, paper-like bark of the tree was used in ancient times for writing Sanskrit scriptures and texts. It is still used as paper for the writing of sacred mantras, with the bark placed in an amulet and worn for protection. Selected varieties are used for landscaping throughout the world, even while some areas of its native habitat are being lost due to overuse of the tree for firewood. During the time of our acharya, its bark was used as paper. Then there were no papers the horoscopes were written on some special types of leaves known as Bhojpatra or Bhurja Patra. People stored information in a written form on the back of this plant because of this it is also called Lekhya Patra which is used for writing.
Several health practitioners make use of leaves and twigs of the birch tree for medicinal purposes. Leaves and twigs are often boiled to make anti-inflammatory treatments. Birch tree consists of betulinic acid that gives it its anti-inflammatory properties, which are beneficial for treating conditions like arthritis, high cholesterol, heart and kidney edema, and cystitis. Himalayan Birch is the most commonly used herb in Asian times for the treatment of bleeding, wound cleaning, earache, and various psychiatric disorders.
Leaves and the bark are used to make an anti-inflammatory tea to help treat various forms of inflammation. Bark, in particular, is loaded with betulinic acid which has powerful anti-inflammatory activity. Because of this, Birch tea can be used to help treat common joint conditions like arthritis and rheumatism. It can also be used to help relieve internal inflammation affecting the digestive and respiratory systems.
Urinary Tract Conditions:
Birch leaves can be used to make a tea or juiced to help treat inflammation or infection in the urinary tract. It may also help treat edema and flush the kidneys. Birch leaves have diuretic properties that means a tea made from them can help promote both the volume and the frequency of a person’s urination. This, in turn, helps to flush the system of uric acid, toxins and excess fluids throughout the body. It can also help maintain good liver and kidney health and may even help eradicate unsightly cellulite.
Birch leaves when consumed in the form of a tea can help to boost the body’s immune system. Leaves consist of antiviral and antibacterial properties that help protect the body from infection and also speed up recovery from any infection that you may have. Leaf tea also consists of several natural antioxidants in the form of flavonoids and vitamin C which can further improve general health and help to reverse the damage done to the body by free radicals.
Drinking a few cups of tea made with the leaves and the bark can help to stimulate your digestive system and improved overall digestion. Due to its anti-inflammatory nature, it is highly effective in relieving digestive problems. Tea can be used to relieve common digestive complaints like a cramp, abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea. Apart from that leaves also consists of mild laxative properties meaning that they can be consumed to help relieve constipation and support more regular bowel movement. It has also been used throughout the centuries as a general digestive tonic.
Like many other herbal teas, Birch leaf tea may help to promote a good night of sleep if you drink a cup or two just before bedtime. The effects are perhaps mild and doubtful to help you overcome more serious sleep issues, but if you are simply feeling a little on edge, it is worth giving it a go.
Birch leaves and the bark consists of astringent properties making them an effective treatment for numerous skin problems. To treat your skin with the leaves, Soak some Birch leaves in a jug of water for at least a few hours and then strain the solution. Use the leaf water to wash your skin paying particular attention to the affected areas. Bathing in water infused with Birch leaves is another effective way of treating the skin, prevent dandruff and to help strengthen your hair roots.
Traditional Uses of Himalayan Birch:
- German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Betula species for infections of the urinary tract, kidney and bladder stones, rheumatism.
- An infusion of the bark is antiseptic and carminative.
- It has been used in the treatment of hysteria and jaundice.
- It is used as drops to the ears to relieve earache.
- Paste made from the bark is used as a poultice on cuts, wounds and burns.
- It is an effective natural treatment for skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and furunculous.
- You can soak birch leaves in water for few hours and then use the strained solution for washing the skin as a treatment for skin problems.
- It is also good for healing various other skin irritations.
- Bath with birch leaf water is a good way to strengthen the hair roots and prevent problems like dandruff.
- Buds of the birch tree are a rich source of vitamin C, tannin, and flavonoids, which makes them effective in the prevention of viral infections and even the formation of cancer.
- Decoction of the bark of Himalayan Birch is used for sprinkling over fresh wounds to control bleeding and quicker healing.
- Sesame oil processed with the bark of the tree is used as ear drops in case of ear ache and discharge from the ear.
- Decoction prepared from the bark of Himalayan Birch is given in a dose of 10-15 ml to treat diarrhea and dysmenorrhea.
- Powder of the bark is applied over the scalp region as part of the treatment in psychiatric diseases.
- Cold infusion of the bark of Himalayan Birch is given in a dose of 15-20 ml to treat cough.
- Leaves are used with other diuretic herbs to reduce fluid retention and swellings.
- Bark can be softened in oil and applied to rheumatic joints.
- Himalayan Silver Birch is used in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for convulsions, dysentery, hemorrhages, and skin diseases.
- Mexicans use the leaves in a diuretic tea.
- People in the Kumaon region of Utter Pradesh, India, west of Nepal, use the resin for contraceptive purposes.
- Paste of the resin is applied to boils.
- Stem and the roots are used in the treatment of rheumatism, anaemia, coughs and as a wash for cuts and wounds.
Other Uses of Himalayan Birch:
- Betula utilis is a valuable timber tree of commercial importance.
- Wood is hard, dense, and rather brittle, with the heartwood pinkish or light reddish brown, with a silky luster.
- Paper is made from the inner bark.
- Outer bark can be carefully peeled off the tree and used as a paper.
- Outer bark can also be used as a waterproofing and for roofing houses.
- Bark is occasionally used as incense.
- Wood is tough, even grained, moderately hard, and elastic and is used for construction.
- Bark of bhoj patra is used as a covering, protecting from evil effects of devils etc.
- Sage has been using its bark as a part of their lower garments.
- People going to badrinath, kedarnath, gangotri tie its bark under their foot thus making their journey comfortable.