Spring is a time of change; of storms and rain, of warming from below and the sprouting forth of new life! The elements of water is everywhere!! For the Earth and all life on it, this is a time for cleansing; of cleansing the old to make way for the new. The Alder tree in ancient Celtic tradition embodied this time of early spring growth more than any other tree. Its nitrogen fixing roots prepare the ground for the new life to spring forth. Alder is all about community, working together and inner growth. Alders grow in groves, to get a sense of the alder community, find an alder grove and sit down among them, spend time, slow down, see all the varied plant life living in the shelter of this benevolent tree. The lessons Alder has to teach us are many.
“Soon we arrived at our destination, a wood frame cabin on an Indian reservation in southern B.C. to visit a medicine woman we had heard about. Upon entering her home we were greeted with the aroma of a pungent warm tea, steaming on the wood stove, Red Alder, everywhere there was Red Alder. She was boiling red alder bark on the stove, several large kettles of it. The first thing Rosie exclaimed was how it cured her arthritis and that all the other folks in the village would bring their jars to be filled. This was my first lesson in Native American herbal medicine.” Michael Tierra
Alder lives along our streams, creeks, waterways and wetlands, it is a common but uncommonly beautiful tree. It speaks of life, growth and renewal in the spring. It speaks to me of healing! It has been referred to as our “healing mother” or “healing woman” by indigenous land folk. Alder has the ability to repair damaged, depleted soil through a process called nitrogen fixing. A bacteria enzyme in its root nodes convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into a nitrogen compound easily assimilated by plants. It is the process of creating compost or fertilizer, it is also a digestive process similar to our own digestive system.
Alder is a gentle healer for our own digestive system as it is for the earth. She is our healing mother! Alder bark tea stimulates and renews our depleted digestive enzymes, helping to restore natural body function beginning in our digestive tract. As a water loving tree it is associated with our own waterways, helping to restore balance in our body fluids to a cellular level.
Folklore: In Celtic tradition Alder represented the warrior and it’s wood was used for their shields; to protect them in battle. Its spirit nature is one of protection rather than war. Alder was held in high regard by the druids of my Celtic ancestors; an alder grove was a sacred place where offerings and prayers were expected before entering. In Irish tradition there was a heavy penalty for felling an alder tree, this in part because when a tree is cut, it bleeds, emitting a blood red pigment on the bark and hands of those who touch it. Alder gained a mystical presence in Celtic folklore due in part to this bleeding effect. In the ancient writings of the Celtic Tree Ogham; alder was a tree of protection, of community, and of courage. It also represented protection for the heart, a shield, against life’s “battles”.
It is usually found in marshy bogs, along river banks, where its roots help hold the soil together and bind nitrogen, making the soil more nutrient rich. You often find them in the front lines of the war in the forest; protecting the earth from further erosion, the alder is one of the “first responders” to appear on a clearcut, helping to repair the soil after the devastation.