Sunday, 17 March 2013

Alder Tree

The 18th March marks the beginning of the Celtic tree month of the Alder and the forth letter in tree alphabet.

Alders flourish in moisture,  they can be found on river banks, wet lands and flood plains.  These places were where our ancestors would have sought habitation.  Because of the trees resistance to rot it was often used to make trackways and roads.   Alder was used in piles for lake dwellings, for water-mill wheels, house foundations, canal locks, milk pails and pipes.The Rialto at Venice is founded on alder piles, and so are numerous medieval cathedrals.

Alder’s burning qualities have always been prized among metal workers and smiths as it makes excellent charcoal for the forge and potter’s oven.   Fresh cut Alder wood turns red as blood, giving the appearance the tree is bleeding. The bark gives a red dye, the twigs a brown dye. The cones make a black dye and the inner bark of the root dies yellow.

It is a tree sacred to Phoroneus, inventor of fire, and to Astarte and Her son, the Fire God. In ancient Greece Cronos was symbolized by an alder tree. In Norse legends March was known as the ‘lengthening month of the waking alder’. In Irish legend the first human male was created from alder, and the first female from rowan. Alder is bound up in the legends of the Rollright stones in Oxfordshire where the King Stone, which stands alone, was once reputedly associated with a grove of alder trees. Alder was anciently renowned as the best wood to use for whistles and pipes. Such was the reputed harmony of the music played on alder pipes that the topmost branch of the alder tree became known as the ‘oracular singing head’ of Bran. The purple colour of alder’s leaf-buds is especially associated with Bran, and is called ‘royal purple’.  Bran also carried a branch of alder with him during the 'Battle of the Trees' saga, an old Celtic legend.

Medicinal Uses

Alder bark is prepared for medicinal use by carefully scraping off the dead outer bark and using the green, living tissue underneath. Alder bark can be simmered in water to make a wash for very deep wounds. The leaves and bark are simmered into a bitter tea for tonsillitis and fever.

The Penobscot Indians used Alder bark tea to stop cramps and vomiting and in a Seven Herbs formula that was taken before a sweat lodge ceremony. The seven herbs were; Alder bark, Witch hazel twigs, Fir twigs, Cedar branches, Sweet-flag, Prince’s-pine, Lambkill, and Brake. The Mohegan used Speckled Alder twigs in decoctions for sprains, bruises, headache, and backache. The inner bark of Alder is used in poultices to stop swelling. The fresh juice stops itching. 

Alder leaves were once gathered while they were still damp with dew and used to cover the floors of a house plagued by fleas or other insects. Adhering to the leaves the insects died. Alder pollen is much-loved by bees. Grouse eat the leaves, buds and seeds, beaver and rabbit chew the bark.


Ogham - Fearn
Letter- F
Month 18th March – 14th April
Color- Crimson
Animals- Red fox, ram, stallion, gull
Planet: Mars
Gemstone: Ruby
Flower: Broom
Diety: Bran or Arthur

J M Paterson, A Tree in Your Pocket
Robert Graves, White Goddess
Tree Medicine, magic and lore, Ellen Evert Hopman

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