Birch is a hardy and adaptable tree, able to grow where many trees cannot. It seldom grows alone and is often found in groves.
The birch tree has many uses both medicinal and practical.
Birch wood is durable but quick to rot, making it a good home for insects and birdlife.
It was often used to make May poles and start the fires at Beltane, the festival of new beginnings, due to a highly combustible tar in its bark.
This tar is furthermore believed to be good for the skin and can be used to treat eczema.
Birch is also associated with purification and protection. The leaves of the birch can be brewed into a tea that treats infection, stimulates the gall bladder and kidneys and is said to dissolve gravel and kidney stones.
In Scandinavia birch is used in saunas to stimulate the purification process and in Russia birch branches are beaten against the skin at steam rooms for the same purpose. This practice was also used as a punishment in old England to purify a criminal of evil.
Brooms were often made out of birch twigs as birch was believed to have protective qualities.
The birch brooms were used to drive away the spirits of the old year in a protective ritual called ‘beating the bounds’.
Babies’ cradles were often made of birch for these same protective qualities and it is said that carrying a piece of birch will protect you from fairies.