Friday, June 19, 2009

The Alder tree

Alnus Glutinosa

The fruit of the alder tree is used for dyeing, and watching the dye being applied to silk to create a soft brown or antique effect, sent me to my books to learn how it had been used in the past. I had tried it on wool, but with not much success, though with different mordants you can get yellow or green.

Grigson says "Catkins, twigs and bark give a black dye" which was a poor man's dye according to Gerard. As a wood it was used for clogs and sabots, because of its qualities of keeping warm because it is a poor conductor of heat.
Grigson first paragraph describes a tree that puts you in mind of mangroves in a jungle, apparently it has little folklore or myth.....

"Not much emotion has gathered around the Alder, perhaps because it was a tree of swamp and marsh and impenetratable valley moors, which needed the exorcism of natural history. Yet once enjoyed, an alder swamp along a Cornish stream for example, remains perennially and primevally enchanting - the trees alive and dead, moss bearded and lichen bearded, the soil and the water like coal slack and blacksmith's water, in between the tussocks of sedge"

You can almost hear the water gurgling round your wellingtons in that beautifully described paragraph, as you stumble over old roots and tussocks of grass. It probably would have grown in the valley where Bath is situated, a swampy marsh, with steam rising from the hot springs as their flowing waters disappeared into the marshy land around.
I could turn to Culpeper and give its virtues as a herbal remedy, but the best advice is don't,
"for the fresh green bark taken inwardly provides strong vomiting, pains in the stomach and gripings in the belly" but a decoction was taken in spring as a purge, to consume the phlegmatic quality the winter had left!

The common word alder is supposed to come from the Anglo-Saxon word alor or aler, which derives from an old German word elo or elawer (reddish brown), and according to Grigson the Irish used to have a superstitious fear of this wood that turned from white when felled to an orange/red. It is was also used as the base of Venice, in the sense that the wood piles that Venice rests on were made of alder, similarly water pipes and wooden pumps were made of this wood.
Its colouring reminds me of the old yew at Alton Barnes, which has the most beautiful pink/cream centre and must have been a marvellous wood to make things from.

The beautiful heartwood of the Yew at Alton Barnes

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