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Medical disclaimer: always check with a physician before consuming wild plants, and make positive identification in the field using a good source such as Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West.  Michael Moore also has a glossary of medical terms in his books, and maps in later editions. ) 
#82
Common Name: Birch, Water Birch, Paper Birch
Latin Name: Betula nana, B. glandulosa, B. occidentalis, B. papyrifera, B. pumila (listed by Michael Moore)
Family Name: Betulaceae
Range: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=BETUL  main database, entire North American continent.
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=BENA states west of the Rocky Mountains, except Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, plus Alaska, South Dakota, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, in Canada; British Columbia to Saskatchewan and Yukon to Nunavut (Betula nana)
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=BEOC2 all states west of the Rocky Mountains including Alaska, N. and S. Dakota, Nebraska, plus British Columbia to Ontario and Yukon to Nunavut. (Betula occidentalis)http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=BEPU4 all of Canada except Nunavut, all of New England from New York and New Jersey northwards, plus Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, N. Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California ( Betula pumila)
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=BEPA N. Carolina, Tennessee northward, except Kentucky, all states north and east of the Ohio R., Iowa, Nebraska and northward, Colorado northward, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and all of Canada except Nunavut  (Betula papyrifera)http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=BENI all states east of the Mississippi R. and along the western side, except Maine, plus Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas (Betula nigra)
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=BEAL2 Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, Iowa, northwards into Quebec, Newfoundland, and Ontario (Betula alleghaniensis)
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=BEPO N. Carolina northward to New England, all states north of the Ohio R. except Wisconsin, plus Ontario and Quebec (Betula populifolia)
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=BEGL all of Canada and northward, plus S. Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, California, Oregon,  Washington, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine (Betula glandulosa)
Photos: (Click on latin name after Common name)
# 82(a)
Common Name: Yellow Birch ( Betula allghaniensis )
Appearance and Habitat: Yellow birch grows larger than other eastern birches. Open-grown specimens develop a massive candelabra form, while forest trees are tall and slender. The name comes from the curly, translucent, golden-yellow bark, streaked with gray and brown. Showy catkins appear just before leaf emergence. Leaves are dull green above and yellow underneath, changing to blaze yellow in fall.  Bark on young stems, branches and trunk peels in thin, papery shreds. Large, aromatic tree  with broad, rounded crown of drooping branches and slight odor of wintergreen in crushed twigs and foliage. Grows to 100 ft. but 50 ft. is far more typical. One of the most valuable birches and one of the largest hardwoods in northeastern North America. Yellow Birch when fairly mature is easily recognized by its distinctive bark. Young specimens, which may be mistaken for Sweet Birch, are most readily identified by their hairy twigs and buds and most persistently hairy leaves with mostly unbranched side veins. (1) Usually found in moist well-drained soils in rich woodlands on lower slopes, it is also found in cool marshlands in the south of its range.  North eastern N. America – Newfoundland to Virginia and Tennessee.  A deciduous tree growing to 12 m (39ft) by 3 m (9ft) at a fast rate.  It is hardy to zone 4. It is in flower in April, and the seeds ripen in October.  It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade.It requires moist soil. (2)Warnings: None (3)
Edible Uses: Inner bark – cooked or dried and ground into a powder and used with cereals in making bread. Inner bark is generally only seen as a famine food, used when other forms of starch are not available or are in short supply. Sap – raw or cooked. A sweet flavour. The sap is harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. It flows abundantly, but the sugar content is much lower than maple sap. A pleasant drink, it can also be concentrated into a syrup or fermented into a beer. An old English recipe for the beer is as follows:- “To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr’d together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm’d. When it is sufficiently boil’d, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work…and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum.”. A tea is made from the twigs and leaves. The dried leaves are used according to another report. An excellent flavour. The twigs and leaves have the flavour of wintergreen and can be used as condiments. (4)
Medicinal Uses: Yellow birch is little used medicinally, though a decoction of the bark has been used by the native North American Indians as a , acting to cleanse the body by its emetic and cathartic properties[257]. The bark is a source of ‘Oil of Wintergreen'[226]. This does have medicinal properties, though it is mainly used as a flavouring in medicines. (5)
Foot Notes: (2, 3, 4, 5)
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#82(b)
Common Name: Dwarf Birch (Betula nana )
Appearance and Habitat:  Swamp birch or dwarf birch is a dwarf shrub  that has many branches growing along the ground before turning up at the tips. The small, rounded and  toothed leaves are dark green on top and paler beneath. (1) A deciduous Shrub growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in).  It is hardy to zone 2 and is not frost tender. It is in flower in May, and the seeds ripen in July. (2)
Warnings: None (3)
Edible Uses: Young leaves and catkins – raw. The buds and twigs are used as a flavouring in stews. (4)
Medicinal Uses: The bark is antirheumatic, astringent, lithontripic, salve and sedative. Moxa is prepared from the plant and is regarded as an effective remedy in all painful diseases. No more details are given, but it is likely that the moxa is prepared from yellow fungous excretions of the wood, since the same report gives this description when talking about other members of the genus. A compound decoction of the leaves has been used in the treatment of stomach ache and intestinal discomfort (5)
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#82(c)
Common Name: Water Birch (Betula occidentalis)
Appearance and Habitat:  Water birch or mountain birch is a 20-30 ft., multi-trunked tree with shiny, reddish-brown bark. Its delicate, graceful appearance is created by slender, spreading, pendulous branches.  Shrub or small tree with rounded crown of spreading and drooping branches, usually forming clumps and often in thickets. The red color of the branches and twigs creates the same winter effect as red-twigged dogwoods. The small,  deciduous leaves are bright green above and yellow-green beneath becoming bright yellow in fall. This uncommon but widespread species is the only native birch in the Southwest and the southern Rocky Mountains. Sheep and goats browse the foliage. (1) Ususally found on the banks of streams or moister spots in forests, it is also occasionally found in drier sites.  Found in Western  and Central N. America.  A deciduous Tree growing to 9 m (29ft 6in) at a fast rate.The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind. (2)
Warnings: The aromatic and aliphatic hdrocarbons in birch tar are irritating to the skin.  Do not use in patients with oedema or poor kidney or heart functions. (3)
Edible Uses: Young leaves and catkins – raw. The buds and twigs are used as a flavouring in stews. Inner bark – raw or cooked. Best in the spring. Inner bark can be dried, ground into a meal and used as a thickener in soups, or be added to flour when making bread, biscuits etc. Inner bark is generally only seen as a famine food, used when other forms of starch are not available or are in short supply. Sap – raw or cooked. The sap can be used as a refreshing drink or beer, it can also be concentrated into a syrup by boiling off much of the water. Harvested in spring, the flow is best on a sunny day following a frost. An old English recipe for the beer is as follows:- “To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr’d together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm’d. When it is sufficiently boil’d, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work…and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum.” (4)
Medicinal Uses: The bark is antirheumatic, astringent, lithontripic, salve and sedative. A decoction of the flowers and leaves has been used as an abortifacient. (5)
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#82(d)
Common Name: Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera )
Appearance and Habitat: A characteristic deciduous tree  of the Northwoods, paper birch is a 50-75 ft. single- or multi-trunked tree with conspicuous, white, peeling bark. Loosely pyramidal in youth, the tree  develops an irregular, rounded crown in maturity. Bright green leaves turn yellow in fall. One of the most beautiful native  trees, with narrow, open crown of slightly drooping to nearly horizontal branches; sometimes a shrub. Paper Birch is used for specialty products such as ice cream sticks, toothpicks, bobbins, clothespins, spools, broom handles, and toys, as well as pulpwood. Indians made their lightweight birchbark canoes by stretching the stripped bark cover frames of Northern White-cedar (Thuja occidentalis), sewing it with thread from Tamarack (Larix laricina) roots, and caulking the seams with pine or Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea or A. concolor) resin. (1) Woods, usually on slopes, edges of ponds, streams and swamps.  Found in a wide range of soil conditions, but the best specimens are found in well-drained sandy-loam soils in Northern N. America to Greenland.   A deciduous Tree growing to 20 m (65ft) by 5 m (16ft) at a fast rate.  It is hardy to zone 1.   It is in flower in April, and the seeds ripen in October. (2) Warnings: (same as occidentalis) (3)
Edible Uses: Inner bark – raw or cooked. Best in the spring. The inner bark can also be dried and ground into a meal and used as a thickener in soups or be added to flour and used in making bread, biscuits etc. Inner bark is generally only seen as a famine food, used when other forms of starch are not available or are in short supply. Sap – raw or cooked. A sweet flavour. Harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. The flow is best on warm sunny days following a hard frost. The sap usually runs freely, but the sugar content is lower than in the sugar maples. A pleasant sweet drink, it can also be concentrated into a syrup or sugar by boiling off much of the water. The sap can also be fermented to make birch beer or vinegar. An old English recipe for the beer is as follows:- “To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr’d together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm’d. When it is sufficiently boil’d, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work…and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum.”. Very young leaves, shoots and catkins – raw or cooked. A tea is made from the young leaves and also from the root bark. (4)
Medicinal Uses: Paper birch was often employed medicinally by many native North American Indian tribes who used it especially to treat skin problems. It is little used in modern herbalism. The bark is antirheumatic, astringent, lithontripic, salve and sedative. The dried and powdered bark has been used to treat nappy rash in babies and various other skin rashes. A poultice of the thin outer bark has been used as a bandage on burns. A decoction of the inner bark has been used as a wash on rashes and other skin sores. Taken internally, the decoction has been used to treat dysentery and various diseases of the blood. The bark has been used to make casts for broken limbs. A soft material such as a cloth is placed next to the skin over the broken bone. Birch bark is then tied over the cloth and is gently heated until it shrinks to fit the limb. A decoction of the wood has been used to induce sweating and to ensure an adequate supply of milk in a nursing mother. A decoction of both the wood and the bark has been used to treat female ailments (5) Foot Notes: (1) http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=BEPA
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#82 (e)
Common Name: River Birch (Betula nigra)
Appearance and Habitat:  The gracefully branched river birch is a 30-50 ft., usually multi-trunked tree  which can reach 90 ft. in height. Often slightly leaning and forked tree  with irregular, spreading crown. A spreading crown of several large, ascending limbs support slightly weeping branches. The tree’s selling point is its satiny, silver bark  that peels to reveal a cinnamon-brown trunk beneath. Fall foliage is yellow but seldom effective.  (1) Banks of streams, by swamps, in deep rich soil that is often inundated for weeks at a time in Eastern N. America – New Hamshire to Florida.  A deciduous Tree growing to 20 m (65ft 7in) at a fast rate.   It is hardy to zone 4. It is in flower in March, and the seeds ripen in June. (2)
Warnings: (Same as for occidentalis) (3)
Edible Uses: Sap – raw or cooked. A sweet flavour. Harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl. The trunk is tapped by drilling a hole about 6mm wide and about 4cm deep. The sap flows best on warm sunny days following a hard frost. It makes a refreshing drink and can also be concentrated into a syrup or sugar. The sap can be fermented to make birch beer or vinegar. An old English recipe for the beer is as follows:- “To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr’d together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm’d. When it is sufficiently boil’d, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work…and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum.” (4)
Medicinal Uses: A salve was made by boiling the buds until they were thick and pasty, sulphur was added and this was then applied externally to skin sores and ringworm. The leaves have been chewed, or used as an infusion, in the treatment of dysentery. An infusion of the bark has been used to treat stomach problems, ‘milky’ urine and difficult urination with discharge. (5)
Foot Notes: (2, 3, 4, 5) http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Betula%20nigra
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#82(f)
Common Name: Grey Birch (Betula populifolia )
Appearance and Habitat:  Gray birch is a narrow, columnar, single- or multi-trunked tree,  35-50 ft. Small, bushy tree  with open, conical crown of short slender branches reaching nearly to the ground; more often a clump of several slightly leaning trunks from an old stump. The white, non-peeling bark  becomes darker with age. Dark-green leaves turn yellow in fall. A pioneer tree  on clearings, abandoned farms, and burned areas, Gray Birch grows rapidly but is short-lived. A nurse  tree,  it shades and protects seedlings of the larger, long-lived forest trees. The wood is used for spools and other turned articles and for firewood. Its trunks are so flexible that when weighted with snow, the upper branches may bend to the ground without breaking. The long-stalked leaves dance in the slightest breeze. (1) Found on the margins of swamps and ponds, it also commonly grows in dry sandy or gravelly barren soils, growing well in poor almost sterile soils in Eastern N. America from Quebec to Virginia west to Indiana.   A deciduous Tree growing to 12 m (39ft 4in) at a fast rate.  It is hardy to zone 4. It is in flower in April, and the seeds ripen in September. (2)
Warnings: (Same as for occidentalis) (3)
Edible Uses: Inner bark – cooked or dried and ground into a meal. The meal can be used as a thickener in soups etc, or be added to flour when making bread, biscuits etc. Inner bark is generally only seen as a famine food, used when other forms of starch are not available or are in short supply. Sap – sweet. Harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. The flow is best on warm days that follow frosty nights. The sap is drunk as a sweet beverage or it can be fermented to make birch beer or vinegar. An old English recipe for the beer is as follows:- “To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr’d together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm’d. When it is sufficiently boil’d, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work…and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum.” (4)
Medicinal Uses: The bark is astringent. a decoction has been used to treat bleeding piles. Scrapings of the inner bark have been used to treat swellings in infected cuts. (5)
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# 82 (g)
Common Name: Scrub Birch (Betula glandulosa )
Appearance and Habitat: Streambanks, marsh margins, lakes and bogs, also found on alpine slopes.  Northwestern N. America, from Newfoundland to Alaska and southwards on mountain ranges.  A deciduous Shrub growing to 2 m (6ft 7in).  It is hardy to zone 1 and is not frost tender.
Warnings: None
Edible Uses: Young leaves and catkins – raw. The buds and twigs are used as a flavouring in stews.
Medicinal Uses: The bark is antirheumatic, astringent, lithontripic, salve and sedative
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Now for Michael Moore
Appearance and Habitat:  In the western species Birch is a small tree near water or on the banks of rivers and streams.  It has bronze shiny bark and many branches.  Along the twigs are resinous light colored glands.  The leaves are opposite, oval, serrated and smooth but still veined.   The catkins may be up to an inch in length. It is found throughout the west, but only in the northern areas of New Mexico, Arizona, and only on the western half of Montana.  Look for cottonwoods, willows, and adlers and somewhere nearby will be a stand of Birch.  (In Smokey Valley, Nevada it is found in the foothills along small streams. )
Medical Uses:  Collect the bark and the young leaves.  For the leaves, place them in a paper sack to dry and for the bark; make parallel cuts along the branches and strip off the bark allowing it to dry by running wire through it and hanging it in the shade.   When it is dry, cut it into smaller pieces.  For external use, a strong solution of the bark, boiled in water as a wash.  You can also put the bark in rubbing alcohol to make a good liniment.  A tea from the bark is a mild analgesic for arthritis or a headache, it won’t interfere with medicines that affect platelet aggregation or clotting.  The leaves are high in flavonoids and a cup of tea made from them will help get rid of wheeziness in the lungs and bronchial canals.  The leaves can also be used as a urinary tract soother and healer as well.  The leaves are also a diuretic, but should be used in small frequent doses. 
Medicinal Plants Of the Mountain West  by Michael Moore, 1st Edition, pages 36, publisher:  Museum of New Mexico Press ; copy right 1979  ISBN 0-89013-104-X  
Reproduced, in part, (as well as previous postings under this title) in accordance with Section 107 of title 17 of the Copyright Law of the United States relating to fair-use and is for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.