Herbs & Plants

Betula occidentalis

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Botanical Name : Betula occidentalis
Family: Betulaceae
Genus: Betula
Subgenus: Betula
Species: B. occidentalis
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Fagales

Synonym: Betula fontinalis.

Common Names:Water Birch, Red Birch,Western water birch

Habitat : Betula occidentalis is  native to western North America, in Canada from Yukon east to western Ontario and southwards, and in the United States from eastern Washington east to western North Dakota,[citation needed] and south to eastern California, northern Arizona and northern New Mexico, and also possibly eastern Alaska. It typically occurs along streams in mountainous regions.

Betula occidentalis is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 10 m high at a fast rate, usually with multiple trunks. The bark is dark red-brown to blackish, and smooth but not exfoliating. The twigs are glabrous or thinly hairy, and odorless when scraped. The leaves are alternate, ovate to rhombic, 1–7 cm long and 1-4.5 cm broad, with a serrated margin and two to six pairs of veins, and a short petiole up to 1.5 cm long. The flowers are wind-pollinated catkins 2–4 cm long, the male catkins pendulous, the female catkins erect. The fruit is 2–3 cm long and 8–15 mm broad, composed of numerous tiny winged seeds packed between the catkin bracts.

It is hardy to zone 0. 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.
The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, requires well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

Succeeds in a well-drained loamy soil in a sunny position. Tolerates most soils including poor soils and heavy clays. Fairly wind tolerant. A fast-growing but short-lived tree. A very ornamental plant, it hybridizes freely with other members of this genus. It hybridizes in the wild with B. papyrifera. A good plant to grow near the compost heap, aiding the fermentation process. Trees are notably susceptible to honey fungus.

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a light position in a cold frame. Only just cover the seed and place the pot in a sunny position. Spring sown seed should be surface sown in a sunny position in a cold frame. If the germination is poor, raising the temperature by covering the seed with glass can help. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. If you have sufficient seed, it can be sown in an outdoor seedbed, either as soon as it is ripe or in the early spring – do not cover the spring sown seed. Grow the plants on in the seedbed for 2 years before planting them out into their permanent positions in the winter

Edible Uses
Edible Parts: Flowers; Inner bark; Leaves; Sap.

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.”

Medicinal Uses:
Abortifacient; Antirheumatic; Astringent; Lithontripic; Salve; Sedative.

The bark is antirheumatic, astringent, lithontripic, salve and sedative. A decoction of the flowers and leaves has been used as an abortifacient

Some Plateau Indian tribes used water birch to treat pimples and sores.

Other Uses
Containers; Hair; Waterproofing.

An infusion of the plant is used as a hair conditioner and dandruff treatment. The thin outer bark is waterproof and has been used as the cladding on canoes and dwellings, and also to make containers. A brown dye is obtained from the inner bark. Wood – close-grained, soft but strong. Trees do not grow large enough to be of use for lumber, but the wood is used locally for fence posts and is also a good fuel. The bark can be used as a kindling.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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