Ancient authors did not know the medicinal properties of the black alder tree. Saint Hildegard, a German St. Benedict abbess of the 12th century, was the first to write about these properties. She published two interesting works on medicinal herbs.
When malaria ran rampant between the 18th and 19th centuries, and American-imported quinine was challenging to obtain, black alder bark was used as a febrifuge. It was called European quinine. Today, the black alder tree is still used in phytotherapy, having many other applications as well. Its bark is used for tanning leather, and its sawdust is used to smoke fish and meat.
Black alder’s wood resists water well, being practically impossible to rot. Some bridges in Venice and London have been built with this wood. Moreover, it is used to make excellent shoes.
Black Alder Tree Scientific Facts
- Scientific name: Alnus glutinosa L.
- Other names: European alder, owler.
- French: Aulne.
- Spanish: Aliso.
- Environment: Common in wet forests all over warm Europe. It also grows wild in some North American regions.
- Description: Deciduous tree of the Betulaceae family, growing up to 20 m high, with an upright trunk, and greyish bark, toothed leaves, dark-green colored on the upper side, and light-green on their underside. This is a monoic tree, which is an identical plant that houses male and female flowers.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The bark of young branches and the leaves.
Healing Properties and Indications
Black alder tree BARK is very rich in tannin (up to twenty percent). It also contains a red-coloring substance of glycoside nature, named emodin, and lipoid substances. Due to its tannin content, it is an excellent astringent, which dries the mucosa whether applied internally or externally. Moreover, it has febrifuge properties. It is recommended in the following cases:
- Summer diarrhea, gastroenteritis, and colitis.
- Stomatitis (inflammation of the oral mucosa), tonsilitis, and pharyngitis: doing gargles with the liquid of its decoction.
- Varicose ulceration, sores, and wounds difficult to heal: A decoction of black alder bark is applied as compresses on the affected area.
- Fever diseases such as malaria or brucellosis, when decreasing fever is recommended. In this case, the decoction is taken orally, under medical supervision.
Black alder tree LEAVES contain tannin and sugars, and a glutinous substance covers them, composed of two alcohols (glutinol and glutanol) and their corresponding acids. Their properties are as follows:
- Vulnerary, which helps cicatrize wounds and healing bruises. They are beneficial when healing aching feet and bruises from long walks or ill-fitting shoes. Put the leaves inside your socks, with their upper side touching the skin. The tired sensation will be alleviated, quickly healing rubs.
- Antirheumatic. Wrap the ill person with black alder leaves previously heated under sunlight or inside an oven, then cover the painful area with a blanket. This “leaf bath” is a good remedy for alleviating rheumatic and arthrosis aches, besides having perspirant and depurative effects.
- Galactofuge. They produce a decrease in milk production in breastfeeding women. To achieve this effect, put a poultice of leaves on the breasts.
How to use Black Alder
- Decoction, with 30-40 g of young branches bark, boiling for 15 minutes. Drink two or three cups daily.
- The same decoction can be used for gargles and rinses and as for compresses.
- Poultices. The leaves are locally applied, be they as a vulnerary (inside socks with their upper side touching the skin), antirheumatic (covering the painful area after heating in an oven), or Galactofuge (on the breasts). Black alder leaves must always be applied when green, primarily when used as a vulnerary.
Red alder is more common in North America (Alnus rubra L.), also called Oregon alder. The red and the common alder species are very close from a botanical point of view and have practically the same properties and applications.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 487, 488. Print. [Black alder tree]