Birch tar was used widely as an adhesive as early as the Middle Paleolithic to early Mesolithic era. Neanderthals produced tar through the dry distillation of birch bark as early as 200,000 years ago. It has also been used as a disinfectant, in leather dressing, and in medicine.
Russia leather is a water-resistant leather, oiled with birch oil after tanning. This leather was a major export good from 17th and 18th century Russia, as the availability of birch oil limited its geographical production. The oil impregnation also deterred insect attack and gave a distinctive and pleasant aroma that was seen as a mark of quality in leather.
Birch tar oil is an effective repellent of gastropods. The repellent effect lasts about two weeks. The repellent effect of birch tar oil mixed with petroleum jelly applied to a fence lasts up to several months.
- Kozowyk, P. R. B.; Soressi, M.; Pomstra, D.; Langejans, G. H. J. (2017-08-31). "Experimental methods for the Palaeolithic dry distillation of birch bark: implications for the origin and development of Neandertal adhesive technology". Scientific Reports. 7 (1). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-08106-7. ISSN 2045-2322.
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- "Production of Russia Leather" (PDF). The Honourable Cordwainers' Company. 1807.
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- Lindqvist I., Lindqvist B., Tiilikkala K., Hagner M., Penttinen O.-P., Pasanen T. & Setälä H. (2010). "Birch tar oil is an effective mollusc repellent: field and laboratory experiments using Arianta arbustorum (Gastropoda: Helicidae) and Arion lusitanicus (Gastropoda: Arionidae)". Agricultural and Food Science 19(1): 1-12. doi:10.2137/145960610791015050.
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