Black Alder

This family (Betulaceae) is commonly called the Birch family. Trees in this genus (Alnus) have bark and berries that yield red dyes.  Children chew on the buds to make brown saliva. The young stems are also gummy. Wooster Beech (1794-1868), founder of the Eclectic healing movement, used a decoction (boil plant part to extract active ingredient) of the bark to “purify the blood”.  The astringents (tannins) in Black Alder are most often employed as mouthwash and gargle for tooth, gum and throat problems.  The drying action of a decoction of the bark helps to contract mucous membranes and reduce inflammation.  In Spain, alder leaves are smoothed and placed on the soles of the feet to relieve aching. In some versions of the Classical legend of the death of Hercules, the hero is cremated on an Alder-wood pyre at the midsummer solstice, and his remains are floated away down a river on an Alder-wood boat. The association of Alder with fire is reinforced by the fact that it is very resistant to decomposition in water, and has been widely used to construct aqueducts and building foundations in marshy areas and places liable to flooding.   Early houses discovered in the archaeology of Europe, which were located on the margins of lakes, were built on Alder piles. It was also employed traditionally in the manufacture of buckets used to carry liquids.


European Alder


Alnus glutinosa




Naturalized, Native of Eurasia and Africa


Woody Shrub


70 feet


Early October


Newfoundland to Florida ~ Found in isolated sites through north Jersey, Ocean county and Island Beach State Park in New Jersey ~ Grows in damp and wet areas


March - May


Tree with full rounded crown ~ erect dark-barked trunk ~ Leaves oval, dark green, gummy, toothed ~ Fruit (cones) long slender ~ Male and Female tree has catkins—Yellowish male catkins are produced in the fall and purplish female catkins are produced in the spring and give the tree a purplish appearance ~ Dark berry