The Celtic Alder Tree
March 18 through April 14th marks the Celtic Alder Tree Month.
The Celts saw that the Alder resided in the magical space of ‘betwixt and between’ bestriding both the earth and water, however it was also linked to the Air element. Flutes, whistles, and pipes were crafted from Alder wood: the pithy center of green boughs is easily cleared away to make an empty cylinder that may then be bound to other branches. The custom of ‘whistling up the wind’ is associated with this practice.
Though it burns poorly, the Celts strongly believed that the Alder incorporated a sacred fire within, because its wood turned orange when cut. This gorgeous coloring indicates the wood is much respected by cabinet makers and ornamental woodworkers. The burnt wood generates high-grade charcoal which was deemed sacred and used to create Celtic metalwork. A red dye made from the sap was used by spinners and weavers to make colored cloth.
An elemental tree
As is to be presumed with a tree which grows beside water, Alder wood does not rot when wet but becomes hardened. For this reason, early British citizens used Alder to build fortifications on boggy land, and Venice was built upon Alder wood. Its oily wood can be looked for in the structure of bridges, lake-dwelling platforms, and submerged stilts. It was also a sought-after wood for boats, water barrels, clogs, weatherboards, cartwheels and water pumps. Custom hints that one needs to be careful when cutting Alder wood, however, as it is shielded by water faeries. Because the Alder tree is linked to all four elements (Earth: root system, Fire: red sap and catkins, Water: grows by rivers etc., Air: custom of making whistles) its magickal characteristics are said to be potentially fickle so caution is advised.
Alder bark was typically used to treat inflammation, rheumatism, and diarrhea. Both leaves and bark were integrated to heal mouth ulcers and sore throats. Alder leaves were put in cloth bags and heated for muscular aches and pains, and to dry out breast milk. The fresh leaves are very soothing and could be used for burns or put inside shoes to relax swollen hot feet. Fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot, also respond well to an Alder leave treatment. For sore throats, Alder leaves can be added to boiling water and brewed. Add honey to taste which will also help to soothe the throat. You can also use this tea to clean the mouth if suffering from inflamed gums or mouth ulcers.