The forest is full of things that make you itchy: poison ivy, poison oak, mosquitoes, chiggers. But for the wise adventurer, the forest also provides a way to heal your itch. The remedy might be found in the beautiful white birch tree.
White birch trees are ubiquitous in cold climates. A photo of the white tree against white snow is iconic of New England winters. A bark extract called Betulin (a terpene like tea tree oil) has been shown in animal studies to be antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and to aid in wound healing. Research presented at the annual congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venerology showed that a cream containing betulin significantly reduced itching in red, irritated skin in psoriasis and eczema patients.
The study is only preliminary, and betulin will need to be tested in rigorous trials to see if the extract makes a cream much better than placebo cream; however, betulin is already available in creams in Europe.
So how do you get the extract out of the bark if you’re itchy while hiking in a forest? I’ll wait for Bear Grylls to show us on a future episode of Man Vs. Wild. No doubt a fire and half a plastic bottle will be needed.
Photo: Nicolas T