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  • Alnus glutinosa L.
  • Alnus rubra L.
  • Aquifoliaceae
  • Betulaceae
  • Birch family

Common Names

herbsBlack alder
herbsEuropean alder
herbsFever bush
herbsWinter berry

Parts Usually Used

Bark, leaves

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Black alder (A. glutinosa) is a deciduous tree up to 80 feet high; the alternate leaves are round-obovate, usually doubly serrate, scalloped, and have a tuft of down on the underside. The flowers are segregated by sex into separate catkins, the reddish-purple female ones developing into hard cones that contain the seeds. 2-8 catkins will occur in a cluster on a forked peduncle.

Red alder (A. rubra) grows as a shrub or tree. It has elliptic-ovate leaves that are dark green on top and rusty-haired underneath. Found in evergreen and redwood forests from Northern California to Alaska. Uses and dosage is the same as A. glutinosa.

Smooth alder (A. serrulata) sometimes called the Hazel alder, is a shrub or tree with blackish bark that is lightly speckled with small, grayish to orange lenticels. Its leaves are elliptic to obovate, finely serrate and usually fine-haired underneath. It can be found from Nova Scotia to Oklahoma, Florida, and Louisiana. Medicinally used the same as black alder.

Where Found

Black alder (A. glutinosa) grows in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and locally in North America. Found in cooler regions, forming dense stands around swamps and along streams and rivers. Cool, moist or even wet soils.

Medicinal Properties

Astringent, bitter tonic, emetic, hemostatic, mucilaginous, cathartic, alterative

Legends, Myths and Stories

Culpeper states: "The said leaves gathered while the morning dew is on them, and brought into a chamber troubled with fleas, will gather them there unto, which being suitably cast out, will rid the chamber of these troublesome fellows."

Native Americans sometimes dyed basket grass with alder bark in a brilliant burnt orange shade, which fades with age to a rich brown.


Fresh alder bark will cause vomiting; so use dried bark for other than emetic purposes. A decoction of the bark makes a good gargle for sore throat and pharyngitis. The powdered bark and the leaves have been used as a tonic. Boiling the inner bark in vinegar produces an external wash for lice and for skin problems such as scabies and scabs, psoriasis, rheumatism, inflammations, good for burning and aching feet, dropsy, shingles, impetigo, pruritis, poultice for swellings of all kinds including enlarged glands, scrofula. You can use the liquid to clean your teeth and firm gums. An effective worm medicine for children. Inner bark boiled in vinegar will kill lice, cure the itch, cures old sores, and good for toothache.

Formulas or Dosages

Infusion: use 1 heaping tbsp. crushed alder leaves to 1 pint boiling water. Let steep for 1/2 hour.

Decoction: boil 1 tsp. bark, or leaves in 1 cup water. For internal use, take 1-2 cups a day, in mouthful doses.

Tincture: a dose is from 1/2 to 1 tsp.

Powder: a dose is from 8-12 grains.

Poultice: use just enough water to moisten the leaves.

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