Betula pubescens

 

Betula pubescens

Synonyms

No documentation

Vernacular Name

White Birch, Downy Birch, European White Birch, Hairy Birch, White Birch.

Description

Betula pubescens is thought to expand further north into the arctic climate than nearly any other broad-leafed tree. These characteristics are indicative of its persistence and adaptability. Reaching a height of 20m, B. pubescens is easily identified by its bark, which is often white or a dull grey and easily peeled off the trunk. The Latin name “Betula pubescens” is referential to the pubescent nature of new shoots, which are downy and range from brown to grey. The leaves of this tree are ovate, glabrous and serrated on both sides, ranging in size from 2-5cm in length and up to 4 cm in width. Being a wind-pollinated tree, B. pubescensyields catkins in the early spring, before the appearance of the leaves. These catkins can range from 2.5-4.0cm in length, initially brown, they turn a deep red when ripened. Though closely related to and resembling Betula pendula, or Silver Birch, the hairy shoots of B. pubescens make the species distinguishable from its close relative.

Origin / Habitat

B. pubescens is a species of birch tree native to Europe and Asia but found most readily across the Eastern and Northeastern part of North America, usually in forests and woods.   Though it does not grow well in shade, the tree flourishes in almost any kind of soil; from sand to clay and from alkaline to acidic condition.

Chemical Constituents

Betulin, betula-triterpene saponins, hyperoside, quercetin, myricetin, digalactosides, sesquiterpene oxide, proanthocyanidins, Alboside A, Alboside B, roseoside, chlorogenic acid, ascorbic acid.(1),(3)

Plant Part Used

Barks, leaves, buds.(1)

Traditional Use

B. pubescens has been commonly used by Native American tribes to treat numerous gastrointestinal ailments. Either a tea or an infusion made from the leaves and bark has been used in cases of diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and in order to promote general gastrointestinal health.(4)

Some Native American medical practitioners, specifically from the Cree tribe, have used poultices and decoctions made from boiled bark of B. pubescens to treat numerous topical skin disorders,(5) spontaneous hair loss2 and ease the pain of rheumatism.(4)

Additionally, the bark from B. pubescens has been used for its general cleansing ability, having been used to purify blood, expel stones from the kidneys and bladder and as an anthelmintic. The general effect of B. pubescens on the human body is aromatic, stimulant and diaphoretic.(4)

Dosage

Dosages vary by tribe, region, indication and preparation.

Infusion: 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped leaves per cup of boiling water.(2)

Pharmacology

Pre-clinical

One of the chemical constituents of B. pubescens, betulin, has been investigated for its cytotoxic activities against certain cancer cell lines.(6) Both crude bark extract and purified betulin and betulinic acid have demonstrated activity against drug resistant cell lines of human gastric carcinoma and human pancreatic carcinoma.(7) The activity against melanoma precursors (such as actinic keratosis) and melanoma cells has been noted in laboratory settings. This is likely due to the betulin and betulinic acid content.(8) The betulinic acid is currently being investigated as a viable candidate for chemotherapy in several cell lines that may be resistant to existing drug therapy; additionally, it has shown promise as an anti HIV therapy.(9),(10) Anti-tumor activity has been identified along with immune function support (enhanced NK cell action) in animal studies leading to a prolonged lifespan of tumor bearing mice observed.(11)

Extract of B. pubescens bark has also demonstrated anti-mycobacterial activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MBT) in a laboratory setting.(14) It has also demonstrated promise as a potential candidate for anti-malarial drugs.(15) The variety of applications and the availability of raw material have made this herb a strong candidate for drug exploration.(16)

Clinical

Investigations into the effectiveness of B. pubescens bark and its extract against actinic keratosis have led to two small human clinical studies designed to identify the anti-inflammatory activity. In one study twenty eight patients with actinic keratosis were treated with B. pubescens bark ointment alone or in combination with cryotherapy. The ointment alone resulted in a 75% lesion clearing rate whereas the ointment plus cryotherapy resulted in a 93% clearing rate.(12) In the second study, 48 patients were treated with a topical application of a similar B. pubescens bark ointment with and without cryotherapy and again, those completing the study exhibited reduced degree of dysplasia in the epidermis.(13)

Interaction and Depletions

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation

Interaction with Drugs

The pharmacology of B. pubescens bark extract and its constituents is not fully understood and therefore should not be used in combination with any prescription drug therapy unless under the direction of a healthcare professional.

B. pubescens leaves may be diuretic.(18) Do not use in combination with other diuretics or with patients with kidney disease as there is not enough information available to determine safety.

Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

B. pubescens may cause allergic reactions in some patients,(17) so caution is recommended for those susceptible to allergies.

Pregnancy

Not to be used with pregnant or nursing women.

Age limitation

Not to be used with children.

Adverse reaction

No documentation

Read More

  1) Western Herb

References

  1. Thomson Healthcare. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Thomson Healthcare Inc; 2007.
  2. Pierce, A. The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. New York:  Stonesong Press; 1999.
  3. Duke, James A. Handbook of phytochemical constituents of GRAS herbs and other economic plants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1992.
  4. Hutchens, A. Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston, MA.  Shambala; 1991
  5. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland OR: Timber Press; 2009.
  6. Selzer E, Pimentel E, Wacheck V, Schlegel W, Pehamberger H, Jansen B, Kodym R. Effects of betulinic acid alone and in combination with irradiation in human melanoma cells. J Invest Dermatol. May 2000;114(5):935-940.
  7. Drag M, Surowiak P, Drag-Zalesinska M, Dietel M, Lage H, Oleksyszyn J. Comparison of the cytotoxic effects of birch bark extract, betulin and betulinic acid towards human gastric carcinoma and pancreatic carcinoma drug-sensitive and drug-resistant cell lines. Molecules. Apr. 24, 2009;14(4):1639-1651.
  8. Laszczyk M, Jäger S, Simon-Haarhaus B, Scheffler A, Schempp CM. Physical, chemical and pharmacological characterization of a new oleogel-forming triterpene extract from the outer bark of birch (betulae cortex). Planta Med. Dec. 2006;72(15):1389-1395.
  9. Eiznhamer DA, Xu ZQ. Betulinic acid: a promising anticancer candidate. IDrugs. Apr. 2004;7(4):359-373.
  10. Cichewicz RH, Kouzi SA. Chemistry, biological activity, and chemotherapeutic potential of betulinic acid for the prevention and treatment of cancer and HIV infection. Med Res Rev. Jan. 2004;24(1):90-114.
  11. Han S, Li Z, Li Y, Zhong R. Antitumor effect of the extract of birch bark and its influence to the immune function. Zhong Yao Cai. Jun. 2000;23(6):343-345.
  12. Huyke C, Laszczyk M, Scheffler A, Ernst R, Schempp CM. Treatment of actinic keratoses with birch bark extract: a pilot study. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. Feb. 2006;4(2):132-136.
  13. Huyke C, Reuter J, Rödig M, Kersten A, Laszczyk M, Scheffler A, Nashan D, Schempp C. Treatment of actinic keratoses with a novel betulin-based oleogel. A prospective, randomized, comparative pilot study. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. Feb. 2009;7(2):128-133.
  14. Demikhova OV, Balakshin VV, Presnova GA, Bocharova IV, Lepekha LN, Chernousova LN, Smirnova TG, Pospelov LE, Chistiakov AN. Anti-mycobacterial activity of a dry birch bark extract on a model of experimental pulmonary tuberculosis. Probl Tuberk Bolezn Legk. 2006;(1):55-57.
  15. Alakurtti S, Mäkelä T, Koskimies S, Yli-Kauhaluoma J. Pharmacological properties of the ubiquitous natural product betulin. Eur J Pharm Sci.; Sep. 29, 2006;(1):1-13.
  16. Krasutsky PA. Birch bark research and development. Nat Prod Rep. Dec. 23, 2006;(6):919-942.
  17. Burastero SE, Mistrello G, Paolucci C, Breda D, Roncarolo D, Zanotta S, Falagiani P. Clinical and immunological correlates of pre-co-seasonal sublingual immunotherapy with birch monomeric allergoid in patients with allergic rhinoconjunctivitis. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. Apr-Jun. 2009;22(2):343-352.
  18. Masteiková R, Klimas R, Samura BB, Savickas A, Samura BA, Belaij SI, Samura IB, Rabisková M, Chalupová Z, Bernatoniene J. An orientational examination of the effects of extracts from mixtures of herbal drugs on selected renal functions. Ceska Slov Farm. Apr. 2007;56(2):85-89.