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.