Witches have been flying on brooms since times immemorial, all the way to Harry Potter. The forerunners of “Nimbus 2000” were used by ancient peoples, from northern Europe to the American Indians. It is believed that druids, shamans and sorcerers used various hallucinogenic plants during spiritual rituals, with which they would create the illusion of flying. Flight represented a symbolic connection between the material and spiritual worlds, a connection with the dead and our ancestors, a connection with gods.
Although the prevailing opinion is that witches are exclusively women, the oldest written document on witchcraft from 1453 mentions a certain Guillaume Edelin flying on a broom. Without a broom, Harry Potter would not win in Quidditch; his shiny Nimbus has a mahogany handle and birch or hazel twigs, depending on the purpose: birch allows for a brisk takeoff and hazel for a precise turn.
Traditional witch’s brooms had an ash handle at the end of which birch twigs were tied. Celtic legend has it that witches would go to the forest and beg the fairies to show them the best wood to make brooms. In that way, they would “label” their brooms as magical and powerful, “touched” by the spirit of the supernatural, and everyone would believe in their magical effect. And why birch twigs?
The name of this beautiful tree comes from the Sanskrit bhurga, meaning “a tree whose bark can be written on”. From bhurga, the word has evolved to Celtic beta, English birch, Russian bereza and Serbian breza. It was the first tree that grew after the Ice Age, and the same scenario is repeated every year in the spring when birch trees are the first to come into leaf. It is logical that our ancestors recognised the power and symbolism of this tree and transferred it to mythology, as well as to everyday, practical life. Birch wood is flexible, but also durable, so everything has been made of it for centuries, from canoes to baskets to huts. American Indians believed that lightning could not strike the birch and would seek refuge under it during stormy nights.
Birch is part of traditional rituals around the world. In Serbia, when a bride and a groom leave the house for the church, they jump over a broom made of birch, something that will “cleanse” all evil and spells. It is believed that this custom originated from the ancient Celts who used to live in the Balkans and who mixed with the new Slav settlers. For the Celts, the broom represented a perfect balance of higher powers, because in their belief system it contained male and female energy. Male energy is symbolised by a phallus-shaped handle and female energy by a part with intertwined twigs. Even today it is also used in wedding ceremonies in Scotland.
Russians place birch twigs above their front door to keep evil forces out. England’s Victorians would whip children with birch twigs in order to expel evil forces from them. Cradles were made of birch wood to protect newborns, and in the Scottish Highlands cows would be chased with birch sticks to give birth to healthy calves. Birch is a symbol of renewal and purification around the world. And that is no accident. Modern phytopharmacy has proven that birch has a great power to purify the body.
There are many subspecies of birch, and the two most familiar to us are the silver (ordinary) birch and the flowering (northern) birch. Both have medicinal properties as their leaves, buds, bark and juice can be used for medical purposes. Today we know that birch leaf contains flavonoids, tannins, saponins, phenyl carboxylic acids, triterpene alcohols and vitamin C. What does all this mean? First of all, birch is a strong urinary antiseptic and diuretic. A scientific study conducted by the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) has proven that birch powerfully cleanses the urinary tract, especially in inflammations, it flushes out sand and kidney stones, and is excellent as an adjunct therapy in the treatment of bacterial urinary tract infections. Birch is a diuretic, it accelerates drainage – expelling excess water from the body, it protects digestive organs and has the ability to calm inflammations. It is excellent for infections, cystitis and other inflammatory conditions of the urinary tract and the prostate.
In addition to being great for the urinary tract, it is also great for the skin. We all remember the famous one-litre birch shampoo bottles in the humble times of the cosmetics industry in former Yugoslavia. Birch is excellent for dermatitis and lichens, it soothes the skin and balances its pH value. As a diuretic, birch also helps with painful joints, rheumatism, liver problems and obesity.
In addition to four other medicinal plants, birch has found its place in a modern product based on the postulates of traditional herbal medicine. Nefrovit is a natural formula intended to revitalise and preserve good health of the kidneys, the urinary tract and the prostate. Nefrovit soothes kidney, bladder and urinary tract inflammations, it is effective against bacteria, Escherichia and other infections, it helps flush out sand and kidney stones. Nefrovit – the metaphorical broom – will sweep away sand and stones from the kidneys!