by David Stewart, PhD
People ask me why Young Living does not sell Birch Oil when several other companies do. They are wondering if it would be good to purchase and use Birch Oil from a non-Young Living source, since Young Living does not carry it.
Young Living used to carry a good Birch Oil until 7 or 8 years ago when their supplier, which was in Canada, went out of business. Since then YL has not found another reliable and adequate source of pure natural Birch, which is why they don’t carry it. If Young Living cannot find a reliable source of therapeutic grade oil of a given species, rather than sell an inferior grade, they won’t carry that species at all. Such is the integrity of Young Living.
Most of what is sold as “Birch Oil” in the world is actually pure synthetically produced methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate smells like Birch and/or Wintergreen oil because both of these essential oils are composed of 88-99% natural methyl salicylate. But natural methyl salicylate is not the same as that produced in a chemical laboratory. Natural methyl salicylate as found in natural Birch or Wintergreen oil is not toxic while that synthesized in a laboratory is. While both the natural and synthetic versions of this compound have the same formula (C8H8O3) meaning an arrangement of 8 carbon atoms, 8 hydrogen atoms, and 3 oxygen atoms–a total of 19 atoms. These 19 atoms can be arranged in more than a dozen different structural arrangements.
Isomers of Methyl Salicylate
Consider the 19 atoms necessary to build a methyl salicylate molecule as Legos(R). How many forms can you create with the same set of Legos? Different arrangements (or molecular shapes) for the same chemical formula are called “isomers.” (For more, see “The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple,” available at www.RaindropTraining.com.) When nature produces methyl salicylate in the Birch Tree or in a Wintergreen Bush, it only makes one of the isomers, which is the one that fits our cellular receptor sites and facilitates healing. But what is done in nature cannot be duplicated in a laboratory. Chemical laboratories cannot produce only one isomer. They can only produce a mixture of the various isomers. Most of the isomers of methyl salicylate are toxic and/or have no healing properties.
So when doctors say “synthetic and natural compounds both have the same formula,” they are only telling a partial truth. To be completely honest they need to add that the same formula can have a variety of isomers (or molecular shapes), some of which may be beneficial while most will be undesirable or harmful. Think of it this way: Your bodily cells have receptor sites on their surface of their membranes which act as locks to portals into the cells. These locks are there to make sure that only the molecules God intended will enter or communicate with the cell.
Molecules are keys that will fit the locks of certain receptor sites on certain cells. Only a slight difference between two keys makes a tremendous difference in what doors they will open. Hence, different isomers of the same compound, even though they may have the same atoms (same formula) their different shapes means they will affect different cells differently. One isomer may fit the receptors in your muscles, while another may fit the cells of an organ like the liver or thyroid, while yet another may fit only the thyroid cells and no others. In this way, different isomers usually have very different effects on our bodies even though the molecules are composed of the same set of atoms.
Isomers in Prescription Drugs
In fact, you might be interested to know that the majority of prescription drug compounds are manufactued and exist as pairs of isomers, only one of which has the beneficial properties that drug is meant to provide. The other member of the pair is usually harmful and accounts for most of the “unwanted side effects.” Prescription drugs are like this because it is impossible to manufacture only one isomer and too expensive (or impossible) to separate the two isomers. The extra isomer is never mentioned on the label of the prescription bottle nor in the description of the drug elsewhere. This deception is legally allowed by the U.S. FDA.
Another thing about labeling a bottle of pure synthetic methyl salicylate as “Birch” or “Wintergreen” is that the natural oils contain other compounds besides. It is well known in aromatherpy that essential oil compounds in a mixture don’t behave like the same compounds isolated. Hence, a potentially harmful compound as one of several other compounds in an essential oil do not behave in harmful ways but, instead manifest healing properties. Aromatherapists call this “quenching.” That is where the potentially harmful properties of a compound are quenched or suppressed when combined in a mixture with other compounds.
For example, Myrrh oil contains xylene, an extremely toxic compound by itself, but harmless and beneficial in the company of the other compounds of Myrrh. Myrrh is one of the safest of all essential oils. Those who claim that Birch or Wintergreen oils are dangerous are referring to tests made on synthetic methyl salicylate isolated and tested alone, usually on animals. If the research was with pure natural oil applied to people, they would find no danger, only benefits. These are some of the fallacies of those who claim dangers for natural Birch or Wintergreen.
Since doctors are not familiar with real Birch Oil, which is harmless and non-toxic, they have published strong warnings about using Birch or Wintergreen oil. This includes a warning in the “Merck Manual” that using either of these oils can be lethal, even if only used in a humidifier or steam diffuser with children. (The “Merck Manual” is the most widely used reference in medicine for clinical practice.) Their strong cautions and warnings regarding Birch (or Wintergreen) oils are actually about synthetic methyl salycilate, not real Birch or Wintergreen. If you are using Birch or Wintergreen from a company other than Young Living, the medical precautions against these oils are justified. But for the oils from Young Living, none of the warnings apply.
I have personally ingested capsules orally containing 20 drops of these oils (Young Living brand) with nothing but benefits and no untoward effects. They have an analgesic effect, like aspirin. Medical authorities in general do not recognize the difference between a synthetic oil and a natural therapeutic grade oil such as those from Young Living.
Can You Buy Real Birch Oil from Another Source?
If you buy another brand of Birch, you can be 99% sure that is it not the real thing, even though the label on the bottle may say that it is “natural and pure.” In the U.S. a bottle may say “natural” if the compounds it contains can also be found in nature, even though it may have been totally produced in a chemical laboratory. The bottle can also say “pure” when there may be no more than 5% of the actual product. These misrepresentations seen on many labels are legal and allowed by the U.S. government.
When a reliable and adequate source of true Birch becomes available, Young Living will, no doubt, carry it again. There is a Birch Farm in Alaska that was established a few years ago which, at some future time, may become a supplier for Young Living. There may be other such farms as well, still in the maturing early-growth stage.
In order to carry Birch oil Young Living needs not only a source that is reliable in quality, but also reliable in quantity, capable of supplying the needs of 200,000 distributors. Even if good Birch Oil would become available from one or more small growers/distillers, it would still not be possible for YL to carry it and meet the needs of so many distributors.
Birch or Wintergreen are fundamental in the performance of Raindrop Technique. When Birch oil was available from Young Living, most Raindrop Facilitators prefered Birch to Wintergreen.
Flavor Grade Birch Oil
Real Birch oil, distilled from the wood, bark, and twigs of the Birch tree (Betula alleghaniensis), is used for flavorings in root beer and pancake syrup, which is more profitable than distilling the tree for therapeutic grade essential oil. For use as a flavoring, the standards are not so high in the gathering, distilling, and producing of the oil. While a therapeutic grade Birch oil may contain 100 or more compounds, a flavor grade may contain less than 5 compounds. So long as the oil contains the compounds that contribute to the flavor it fulfills the taste test even though it may be missing most of the compounds that contribute to healing.
While trace amounts of synthetic Wintergreen or Birch used for flavoring in candies or other foods and products appear to be harmless, there is at least one reported death when synthetic versions of these oils are ingested, absorbed, or applied repeatedly over a period time. See the article entitled “Death by Bengay(R)” in the November-December 2008 issue of “The Raindrop Messenger.” All back issues of “The Raindrop Messenger,” including this one, are archived on the website, www.RaindropTraining.com.
So there is your story on Birch. Personally, I will not be using Birch Oil until Young Living carries it. High quality Wintergreen oil, which Young Living has, is equivalent to Birch in its therapeutic properties. Young Living has a good source for pure Wintergreen. Almost all the other companies out there are selling synthetic methyl salycilate as “Birch” or “Wintegreen.” Since the “Merck Manual,” the basic reference for medical practice, warns that these oils (i.e. synthetic methyl salycilate) can be lethal even when used in something as innocuous as a humidifier, I would caution you, or anyone, to avoid anything labeled as “Birch” or “Wintergreen” that is not from Young Living.
Reprinted from The Raindrop Messenger, a free eline newsletter, with permission from Dr. David Stewart. To subscribe or download back issues, visit the archives at www.RaindropTraining.com.