If you haven’t added therapeutic Birch essential oil to your plant-based medicine cabinet today’s another chance to get it done. Birch is a natural source of methyl salicylate, a compound isolated by a french chemist in 1843 used historically for pain relief. There are some caveats to using this essential oil safely so please read the entire post before using.
Most of us are aware of the side effects of extensive use of “over the counter” aspirin and other pain relievers like NSAIDs: Advil and Tylenol. And most of us, myself included, are weary and wary of the rhetoric cleverly convincing us that side effects are no big deal. Well, side effects are a big deal and in my opinion unacceptable especially when we have natural alternatives that have stood the test of time, have little to no side effects when used appropriately and, many are clinically proven to be effective.
“Aspirin is quite simply not as safe as many have been led to believe, and if you understand how it works, it’s easier to get why that is. Aspirin can alter the natural structure and function of red blood cells as well as how blood flows through our veins and our arteries. This is called hemodynamics, and these really foundational changes that aspirin causes in hemodynamics and the structure and function of red blood cells explains why aspirin has such a wide range of adverse effects even at relatively low doses like baby aspirin. It’s been associated with increased risk of ulcer, hearing loss and tinnitus, bleeding in the brain, an increase in influenza mortality, so a greater risk of death if you get a serious case of influenza and you’re in a vulnerable population, Reye’s syndrome, Crohn’s disease, increased risk of H. pylori infection probably because of the effect of aspirin on the gastric mucosa, and although taking a lower dose, like 80 mg, of baby aspirin is considered certainly to be safer than the full adult dose of 325 mg, it’s still known to cause GI damage. For example, in a 2009 study in the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion, researchers found that low-dose aspirin caused “significant gastroduodenal damage even at the low doses used for cardiovascular protection.” Another 2009 study found that 80%, 8 in 10 people who used short-term low-dose aspirin experienced small intestinal toxicity, including small bowel mucosal breaks, which can lead to leaky gut, and mucosal inflammation.” source
On the opposite spectrum, here’s a clinical study from 2008 “comparison of oral aspirin versus topical applied methyl salicylate for platelet inhibition” comparing daily doses of oral OTC aspirin to daily topical applications of a natural compound, methyl salicylate (found in Birch essential oil). Not much variance was found between the two!
It’s important to note that plant based alternatives are powerful and potent and not without a few warnings of their own, especially when it comes to Birch. Please heed the cautions:
1. Do not use Birch essential oil if you’re on blood thinners – topical application can increase risk of bruising.
2. Do not use Birch essential oil if you’re epileptic – why? I’m not sure. I’ve been searching for an explanation on this but came up empty handed. Better safe than sorry however, heed traditional advice and avoid Birch if you have this condition. There are other alternatives to consider like my “Birch free” blend.
3. Avoid during pregnancy. Again, a general warning that seems to be repeated often but with no clear explanation.
4. This is an adult application only, it’s not to be used on children. There are gentler options like Lavender and Marjoram in a carrier oil.
4. Absolutely keep this and every other essential oil out of the reach of children! Birch, Wintergreen, Peppermint all have a sweet scent and can be mistaken for candy. Be especially careful with these!
Herbal Liquid Aspirin Body Rub is easy to make, super convenient to use and smells nicely medicinal. I’ll be using this tonight after spending a good deal of the day chopping down thistle on our ground, it’s a “sore all over” night, but a good sore after a productive summer day! I’ll start by massaging the blend in well on all limbs (working towards the heart), the back of my neck, my poor tired feet and hands then sinking into a warm bath, showers are great too. If you use the rub on your feet, put a hand towel or wash cloth down in the water to step on so you don’t slip. Don’t get the water too hot, just a comfortable warm.
If you’d like to address inflammation too, add 2 drops of Frankincense to the recipe, this is optional but a great option!
- Add essential oils to carrier oil right before topical application for best results. Massage in.
- It's always wise to do a skin patch test before applying any essential oil to an extensive area. It's simple to do! Apply a drop of the blend to the inside of forearm and observe for a 12 hour period.
A body rub protocol is another great application, especially for general muscle soreness, aching joints and even muscle tone. An interesting side note on Birch: it’s considered a febrifuge which means it can help reduce fever and promote sweating further enabling the body to push toxins out.
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