Betula pubescens Ehrh.

Last updated: 18 Aug 2016

Scientific Name

Betula pubescens Ehrh.


Betula alba L., Betula alba var. friesii Regel, Betula alba var. hornemannii Regel, Betula alba f. hornemannii (Regel) Regel, Betula alba var. lupulina Wallr., Betula alba var. ovata Neilr., Betula alba var. pubescens (Ehrh.) Spach, Betula alba subsp. pubescens (Ehrh.) Regel, Betula alba var. vulgaris Aiton, Betula ambigua Hampe ex Rchb., Betula andreji V.N.Vassil., Betula asplenifolia Regel, Betula aurea Steud., Betula baicalia V.N.Vassil., Betula broccembergensis Bechst., Betula callosa Notø, Betula canadensis K.Koch, Betula celtiberica Rothm. & Vasc., Betula concinna Gunnarsson, Betula coriifolia Tausch ex Regel, Betula dalecarlica L.f., Betula friesii Larss. ex Hartm., Betula friesii var. oxyodontia Kindb., Betula friesii var. subalpina Larss. ex Kindb., Betula glabra Dumort., Betula glauca Wender., Betula hackelii Opiz ex Steud., Betula jacutica V.N.Vassil., Betula krylovii G.V.Krylov, Betula laciniata Thunb. [Illegitimate], Betula laciniata Blom, Betula lenta Du Roi, Betula lucida Courtois, Betula macrostachya Schrad. ex Regel, Betula major Gilib. [Invalid], Betula nigricans Wender., Betula odorata var. alpigena Blytt, Betula ovata K.Koch, Betula pontica Loudon, Betula populifolia Aiton, Betula pubescens var. appressa Kallio & Y.Mäkinen, Betula pubescens subsp. callosa (Notø) Á.Löve & D.Löve, Betula pubescens subsp. celtiberica (Rothm. & Vasc.) Rivas Mart., Betula pubescens f. columnaris T.Ulvinen, Betula pubescens subsp. concinna (Gunnarsson) Á.Löve & D.Löve, Betula pubescens var. cryptocarpa Laest., Betula pubescens var. friesii (Larss. ex Hartm.) Nyman, Betula pubescens var. glabra Fiek ex C.K.Schneid., Betula pubescens f. hibernifolia T.Ulvinen, Betula pubescens var. lucida (Courtois) Wesm., Betula pubescens var. media Laest., Betula pubescens var. megalocarpa Laest., Betula pubescens subsp. nigricans Maire ex Just, Betula pubescens var. nigricans (Wender.) Nyman, Betula pubescens var. oblongifolia Wimm., Betula pubescens var. ovalifolia Sukaczev, Betula pubescens subsp. ovalifolia (Sukaczev) Printz, Betula pubescens var. palmiformis Laest., Betula pubescens f. pendula Schelle, Betula pubescens var. pubescens, Betula pubescens f. rubra T.Ulvinen, Betula pubescens var. rustica Laest., Betula pubescens var. sibakademica Baran., Betula pubescens var. silvatica Laest., Betula pubescens var. silvestris Laest., Betula pubescens var. subaequalis Laest., Betula pubescens var. subalpina Laest., Betula pubescens subsp. subarctica (Orlova) Á.Löve & D.Löve, Betula pubescens subsp. suecica Gunnarsson, Betula pubescens var. vestita Gren. & Godr., Betula rotundata Beck, Betula sajanensis V.N.Vassil., Betula sokolowii Regel, Betula subarctica Orlova, Betula subarctica var. pojarkovae Tzvelev, Betula tomentosa Reitter & Abeleven, Betula torfacea Schleich., Betula virgata Salisb. [Illegitimate]. [1]

Vernacular Name

English Downy birch, European white birch [2], brown birch, white birch, mountain birch [3]
France Bouleau pubescent [3].

Geographical Distributions

Betula pubescens occurs naturally throughout most of Europe up to central Siberia. B. pubescens has a more notherly and easterly distribution, growing further north in Europe than any other tree species. [4]

Botanical Description

B. pubescens falls under the family of Betulaceae [1]. It is a monoecious, medium-sized tree relatively shorter than B. pendula, rarely growing beyond 20m and also less towards its northern range limits, up to dwarf trees in exteme habitats in the northern tundra and on mountains [4].

The bark of young trees is brown in colour; when mature it turns into silvery-white, with horizontal dark-grey lenticles and develops fissures. [4]

The leaves are egg-shaped usually 2-5cm, with a finely serrated margin and end in a shorter point. [4]


No documentation

Chemical Constituent

B. pubescens has been reported to contain betulin, betula-triterpene saponins, hyperoside, quercetin, myricetin, digalactosides, sesquiterpene oxide, proanthocyanidins, Alboside A, Alboside B, roseoside, chlorogenic acid, ascorbic acid. [5][6]

Plant Part Used

Barks, leaves, buds. [5]

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. [7]

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 [8], spontaneous hair loss2 and ease the pain of rheumatism [7].

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. [7]

Preclinical Data


Cytotoxic activity

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]. 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]. 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]. 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 [11].

Antimyobacterial activity

Extract of B. pubescens has also demonstrated antimycobacterial activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MBT) in a laboratory setting [12]. It has also demonstrated promise as a potential candidate for anti-malarial drugs [13].


No documentation.

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

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 [14]. 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 [15].


B. pubescens may cause allergic reactions in some patients. [16]

Side effects

No documentation

Pregnancy/Breast Feeding

No documentation

Age limitation

No documentation

Adverse reaction

No documentation

Interaction & Depletion

Interaction with drug

The pharmacology of B. pubescens bark extact 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. [17]

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation


No documentation


No documentation

Poisonous Management

No documentation

Line drawing

No documentation


  1. The Plant List. Ver 1.1. Betula pubescens Ehrh. [homepage on the Internet]. c2013. [updated 2012 Mar 23; cited on 2016 Aug 18]. Available from:
  2. Quattrocchi U. CRC world dictionary of medicinal and poisonous plants: Common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology. Volume I A-B. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2012; p.584
  3. The IUCN Red list of threatened species. Betula pubescens. [homepage on the Internet]. No date [cited 2016 Aug 18]. Available from:
  4. Beck P, Caudullo G, de Rigo D, Tinner W. Betula pendula, Betula pubescens and other birches in Europe: distribution, habitat, usage and threats. In: San-Miguel-Ayanz J, de Rigo D, Caudullo G, Houston Durrant T, Mauri A, editors. Luxembourg: European Atlas of Forest Tree Species Publication; 2016.
  5. PDR for herbal medicines. 2nd ed. Montvale, New Jersey: Medical Economics Company, 2000; p. 178-179.
  6. Duke JA. Handbook of phytochemical constituents of GRAS herbs and other economic plants. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 1992.
  7. Hutchens A. Indian herbalogy of North America. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambala; 1991.
  8. Moerman DE. Native American ethnobotany. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press; 2009.
  9. Eiznhamer DA, Xu ZQ. Betulinic acid: A promising anticancer candidate. IDrugs. 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. 2004;24(1):90-114.
  11. Demikhova OV, Balakshin VV, Presnova GA, et al. Anti-mycobacterial activity of a dry birch bark extract on a model of experimental pulmonary tuberculosis. Probl Tuberk Bolezn Legk. 2006;(1):55-57.
  12. Alakurtti S, Mäkelä T, Koskimies S, Yli-Kauhaluoma J. Pharmacological properties of the ubiquitous natural product betulin. Eur J Pharm Sci. 2006;(1):1-13.
  13. Krasutsky PA. Birch bark research and development. Nat Prod Rep. 2006;(6):919-942.
  14. 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. 2006;4(2):132-136.
  15. Huyke C, Reuter J, Rödig M, et al. Treatment of actinic keratoses with a novel betulin-based oleogel. A prospective, randomized, comparative pilot study. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2009;7(2):128-133.
  16. Burastero SE, Mistrello G, Paolucci C, et al. Clinical and immunological correlates of pre-co-seasonal sublingual immunotherapy with birch monomeric allergoid in patients with allergic rhinoconjunctivitis. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2009;22(2):343-352.
  17. Masteiková R, Klimas R, Samura BB, et al. An orientational examination of the effects of extracts from mixtures of herbal drugs on selected renal functions. Ceska Slov Farm. 2007;56(2):85-89.