Further Notes on the Preparation, Efficacy & History of Alder
Several people have written me asking for more information on using Alder as a lymphatic. So I wanted to do two things here, one is to specify the exact preparation I have been using, and secondly to list my original sources that suggested Alder as a lymphatic, as I think the references are rather obscure though I am pleased to note that many of these older sources have become more popular among current herbalists. To read or download most of the valuable old texts referenced in this post or other parts of my blog, check out Henriette’s treasure trove or the amazing collection at Michael Moore’s SWSBM.
First, I use a tincture made of fall or winter gathered dried bark, dried green cones and fresh catkins. I make a 1:5 tincture with fifty percent alcohol. I don’t know if these little details make any difference but I just wanted to offer them as a reference point for others. My tincture is red, brilliant but not as dark as St John’s Wort and more transparent. The tincture smells pleasant, and actually tastes quite good — sweet, moderately astringent and slightly bitter.
Secondly, sources which directly list Alnus species as a glandular or lymphatic remedy include Lyle, Boericke (homeopathic), Ellingwood, King’s American Dispensaotory, and is also inferred by Cook and Felter. There’s probably more, but that’s what I come up with at the moment.
TJ Lyle specifically said that:
“The bark is a mildly stimulating and gently astringing tonic alterative, influencing mainly the cutaneous and renal secretions, glands and lymphatics; and is therefore valuable in scrofula, glandular swellings, skin diseases and mercurial cachexia. It is also valuable in chronic diarrhoea, sore mouth, sore throat, especially when arising from some impurity in the blood. In the treatment of dyspepsia it influences the flow of gastric juice and invigorates the appetite. Its action is excellent on the mucous membrane in catarrh of the stomach or bowels. Acting as it does on the circulation it is valuable in rheumatism, and in the treatment of syphilis and in chronic and acute inflammation of the stomach and bowels and in cases of hemorrhages. It is a gentle stimulant of the kidneys and absorbents. ”
and John Scudder said
“It is an agent that has not been much employed by the majority of the profession, and yet those who have used it consider it one of our most efficient alterative agents.”
And he specifically recommends it for scrofula with glandular enlargement.
Alder is historically associated with the treatment of scrofula and syphilis, both diseases that deeply affect and eventually derange the lymphatic system. Alder was considered by many of the older herbalists to be a very effective treatment for the these diseases as well as for glandular swellings and disorder in general. Many more general references to this kind of treatment can also be found in various ethnobotanical texts.
It’s quite interesting to note that while many plants have multiple disparate uses by various tribes and peoples that the uses of Alder are fairly consistent wherever it was used. And Alder seems to have been used extensively wherever it grew throughout N. America and probably the world.l
The most common ethnobotanical medicine uses of Alder bark, catkins or cones include:
Analgesic: used both internally and externally to ease the pain of childbirth, menstruation, toothache, headache, bodyaches, broken bones, intestinal cramping, pulled muscles, wounds, bruises etc
Astringent: to stop hemorrhaging both internally and externally from wounds, TB, kidney infections etc
Anti-infective agent: internally and externally for nearly any kind of suspected infection, including fungal infections such as thrush and vaginal infections. Modern research has found Alder to be effective against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus as well as other antibiotic resistant bacteria. The bark and catkins seems to be the most antibacterial parts of the tree.
General Alterative & Tonic: taken to “improve the blood”, reduce swellings, indigestion, clear the skin of eczema, scabby or pustular afflictions, improve food absorption, appetite, and general health, especially in the Spring. Also used to treat jaundice.
Emmenagogue: To bring on menses or labor, to assist in abortion and to help “clean the uterus” out after childbirth.
Diseases such as TB, Scrofula (now thought to be a manifestation of TB) and many venereal disorders and diseases.
Anti-inflammatory: frequently used as eye wash and for rashes, as well as for lowering fevers.
Urinary troubles: this use probably goes under anti-infective but includes using the plant to encourage urination and for “thick” or “milky” urine.
Diaphoretic: Several tribes indicated they used Alder to induce sweating, though there’s little current indication of this action.
Emetic & laxative
Other notable uses of Alder include carving rattles, spoons, plates, bowls, masks and other items, making cradles, cradleboards, snowshoes, various tools as well as being used very widely as a dye ranging from brown to black to red to orange to yellow for baskets, cloth, hair and much more. It’s also a superior wood for making charcoal or smoking meat, and was used as indicator for drinkable water (“if there’s no Alders, don’t drink the water”).
Modern usage by herbalists as well as extensive scientific testing seems to bear out many of these traditional usages, perhaps especially it’s strong antibacterial, anticancer and antifungal properties.
I haven’t yet noted the diaphoretic or emmenagogue effects of the plant, but will be on the lookout for such actions. If anyone else has experience with these aspects of Alder please let me know. I suppose the blood moving (emmenagogue) effects are to be expected from a plant that so excels at relieving pain, and Boericke and Clarke both say that Alder is indicated in amenorrhoea.
What seems most important to note here, is how widely recognized Alder was in the past as a major alterative and an important lymphatic. My recent experience reinforces this and I hope that many of you more adventurous practitioners will give it a try and let me know how it works for you.