Birch bark is high in betulin and betulinic acid, phytochemicals which have potential as pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals which show promise as industrial lubricants.
Birch buds are used in folk medicine.
Birch bark can be soaked until moist in water, and then formed into a cast for a broken arm.
The inner bark of birch can be ingested safely.
In northern latitudes, birch is considered to be the most important allergenic tree pollen, with an estimated 1520% of hay fever sufferers sensitive to birch pollen grains. The major allergen is a protein called Bet v I.
Wood pulp made from birch gives relatively long and slender fibres for a hardwood. The thin walls cause the fibre to collapse upon drying, giving a paper with low bulk and low opacity. The birch fibres are, however, easily fibrillated and give about 75% of the tensile strength of softwood. The low opacity makes it suitable for making glassine.
In India, the birch (Sanskrit: , bhurja) holds great historical significance in the culture of North India, where the thin bark coming off in winter was extensively used as writing paper. Birch paper (Sanskrit: , bhurja patra) is exceptionally durable and was the material used for many ancient Indian texts. The Roman period Vindolanda tablets also use birch as a material on which to write and birch bark was used widely in ancient Russia as note paper (beresta) and for decorative purposes and even making footwear.
Birches have spiritual importance in several religions, both modern and historical. In Celtic cultures, the birch symbolises growth, renewal, stability, initiation and adaptability because it is highly adaptive and able to sustain harsh conditions with casual indifference. Proof of this adaptability is seen in its easy and eager ability to repopulate areas damaged by forest fires or clearings. Birches are also associated with the Tr na ng, the land of the dead and the Sidhe, in Gaelic folklore, and as such frequently appear in Scottish, Irish, and English folksongs and ballads in association with death, or fairies, or returning from the grave. The leaves of the silver birch tree are used in the festival of St George, held in Novosej and other villages in Albania.
The birch is New Hampshire's state tree and the national tree of Finland and Russia. The Orns birch is the national tree of Sweden. The Czech word for the month of March, Bezen, is derived from the Czech word bza meaning birch, as birch trees flower in March under local conditions. The silver birch tree is of special importance to the Swedish city of Ume. In 1888, the Ume city fire spread all over the city and nearly burnt it down to the ground, but some birches, supposedly, halted the spread of the fire. To protect the city against future fires, it was decided to plant silver birch trees all over the city. Ume later adopted the unofficial name of "City of the Birches (Bjrkarnas stad)". Also, the ice hockey team of Ume is called Bjrklven, translated to English "The Birch Leaves".
"Swinging" birch trees was a common game for American children in the nineteenth century. American poet Lucy Larcom's "Swinging on a Birch Tree" celebrates the game. The poem inspired Robert Frost, who pays homage to the act of climbing birch trees in his more famous poem, "Birches". Frost once told "it was almost sacrilegious climbing a birch tree till it bent, till it gave and swooped to the ground, but that's what boys did in those days".