This North American tree is the common source of Wintergreen oil, with which it shares similar chemistry, properties and fragrance. The formula for the popular 19th-century “Russian Leather” men’s fragrance (so named because it kept book bindings soft) was closely guarded, but we now know it was mostly birch oil.
Extraction: Distilled from the inner bark after maceration in warm water. Sweet, sharp scent like some candies.
Medicinal Action: Birch is a muscular and arthritic pain reliever, a diuretic and a circulatory stimulant.
Cosmetic/Skin Use: Birch is a skin softener that soothes irritation and psoriasis and helps prevent dandruff.
Considerations: Use this slightly toxic oil carefully and, because it smells like candy, be sure to store it safely away from children.
Birch Tar Oil –The thick tar is produced from the destructive distillation of bark, which involves burning and steam distillation, and produces a smoky odor. It is used on skin infections and infestations.
White Birch (B. alba) –This Northern European oil has different, less toxic, chemistry with similar properties.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) –Native to northeastern North America, but a small and not very abundant tree, true wintergreen oil is rarely available and potentially toxic in large doses.