North American natives used birch bark for numerous purposes. The bark was used as a form of paper, to make musical instruments, children’s toys, hunting and fishing gear, and as an element in decorative beadwork. The bark was also used to construct vessels for holding and storing foods and even entire canoes.
The main constituent in birch bark, betulinic acid, is named after the tree's botanical name. Although 18th-century Native Americans couldn’t have been aware of the presence of this anti-inflammatory compound, they showed European settlers how to make salves and other topical formulations to counter various skin conditions.