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Betula pubescens


Betula pubescens


Betula alba

Vernacular Name

Common birch, European birch, downy birch, hairy birch, white birch


Betula pubescens has been used in traditional cultures of the Americas and parts of Europe throughout history.  Its uses range from analgesic to treatment for dysentery and other diseases that prevail in each area.  While the bark is the main part of the plant that is used, the leaves may also be used as they have diuretic properties.

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 4cm in width.  Being a wind-pollinated tree, B. pubescens yields 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, or Birch, is 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, B. pubescens flourishes in almost any kind of soil; from sand to clay; from alkaline to acidic. Additionally, B. 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.

Chemical Constituents

Betulin, betula-triterpene saponins, hyperoside, quercetin, myricetin, digalactosides, sesquiterpene oxide, proanthocyanidins, Alboside A, Alboside B, roseoside, chlorogenic acid, ascorbic acid.[1],[2]

Plant Part Used


Medicinal Uses


Immune support

Skin disorders

Digestive disorders



Most Frequently Reported Uses

Immune support

Skin disorders


Infusion:  2-4g powdered bark

There is currently no standardization for B. pubescens.



One of the chemical constituents of B. pubescens, betulin, has been investigated for its cytotoxic activities against certain cancer cell lines.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6],[7] Antitumor 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.[8]

Extract of B. pubescens has also demonstrated antimycobacterial activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MBT) in a laboratory setting.[9] It has also demonstrated promise as a potential candidate for anti-malarial drugs.[10] The variety of applications and the availability of raw material have made this herb a strong candidate for drug exploration.[11]


Investigations into the effectiveness of B. pubescens 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 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 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

There are no reported interactions with conventional drugs. However, based on pharmacology and pre-clinical studies, B. pubescens should not be used by those using chemotherapeutic agents.

Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

B. pubescens may cause allergic reactions in some patients so caution is recommended for those susceptible to allergies.[14]


Not to be used with pregnant or nursing women.

Age limitation

Not to be used with children.

Adverse reaction

No documentation

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  1) Native American Herbs


  1. Duke, James A. Handbook of phytochemical constituents of GRAS herbs and other economic plants. Boca Raton, FL. CRC Press; 1992.
  2. Thomson Healthcare.  PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Thomson Healthcare Inc; 2007.89.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 24 Apr 2009;14(4):1639-1651.
  5. 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.
  6. Eiznhamer DA, Xu ZQ. Betulinic acid: a promising anticancer candidate. IDrugs. Apr 2004;7(4):359-373.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 tuberculosi. Probl Tuberk Bolezn Legk. 2006;(1):55-57.
  10. Alakurtti S, Mäkelä T, Koskimies S, Yli-Kauhaluoma J. Pharmacological properties of the ubiquitous natural product betulin. Eur J Pharm Sci. Sep 2006;29(1):1-13.
  11. Krasutsky PA. Birch bark research and development. Nat Prod Rep. Dec 2006;23(6):919-942.
  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. 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.

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