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the value of alder (Alnus glutinosa)

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14951
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I have a tidbit of information about alder trees and couldn't find a thread for alders, so I'm starting one!

This is the place to add everything we all know about alders!

The tidbit that is new to me comes from doug bullock:  alder sap can be used for syrup like maple trees!


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Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
alder trees grow like weeds..they will nurse small seedlings of other trees..they are good fodder food for wildlife..they can be coppiced and will continue to grow back..they will grow in swamps or fairly dry soil alike..they make good wood to use for crafts, esp things like rustic furniture and arbors.

i have alder forest in a swamp north east of our house..the birds and wildlife simply love these trees..they grow really fast and make a good privacy screen or windbreak


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
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Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
With a chaff cutter or similar, alder leaves can be an important part of swine feed.

The male catkins are edible to humans, and very high in protein. I believe an effort to breed more-palatable and higher-calorie ones would be a long-term good.

The nodules are much larger than for legume trees, and reportedly much slower to rot.


"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
at what stage and how fixed are the catkins edible I have tons of alders and was not aware they were food worthy.

i really am excited about each and every new native food i find on our property..seems i could live on the plants growing naturally here..so long as i had to..pretty much exclusively..however..i'm not sure i would want to ..but if i had to.

i'll be paying attention to this thread as more uses for those pesky alders the better..i have hundreds of them !!

son just pushed a pile of brush up against our alder swamp..and hubby and I were talking and I was suggesting using logs up against the brush piles along the alder swamp as a barrier fence (we have access to the other side)..i thought of making it like a mound to rot of mixed trees and rotting branches..mostly as a wildlife refuge in our woods..maybe planting the edges with vines like grapes and woodbine and honeysuckles and maybe some shrubs..pretty much fencelike
Paul Cereghino
volunteer

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 847
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
    
  14
I have been messing with red alder (A. rubra) as a nurse crop. 
The wood is much more easily chopped up for mulch when it is green

The stems seem to have latent buds near the terminus of each annual growth increment, but not in between.  Thus if you cut them low to the ground they die, but if you cut them high, you'll get one or two layers of sprouts.  I don't yet know if they truely have pollarding potential. but that'd be good.

The wood is good fuel and good tool handles.  The crotch of a branch makes a nice angle for an adze, and was traditionally used by the Salish nations.

They are reportedly good for mushroom culture but the bark is thin and so moisture management and wax sealing of the logs is critical.  They are the natural host of Oyster mushroom, an easy to grow and yummy to eat NW native.

Then bark makes a good red-brown dye.

Collect seed cones when early winter storms knock off high branches.  Store them in a paper bag in doors, when the cones open they dry and seeds fall out.  They are short lived. Plant immediately in winter on the surface of bare ground.

Conversion of conifer forest to red alder forest is in part responsible for tipping Hood Canal into nitrogen induced anoxia, streams running out of alder forest have higher nitrogen levels then conifer forests.


Paul Cereghino- Stewardship Institute
Maritime Temperate Coniferous Rainforest - Mild Wet Winter, Dry Summer
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Brenda Groth wrote:
at what stage and how fixed are the catkins edible


This guy says as they first emerge 'till the stage when they release a lot of pollen, raw or boiled.

Some highlights:

Along with a slightly nutty taste from the yellow, powdery pollen, the catkin structure itself was crunchy and pleasing, if not a little bitter...For ten days I ate ten raw catkins in the morning. Then for 20 days I ate 20 boiled catkins (after drying and collecting the pollen). At no time did I feel any ill effects...The Plants for a Future Database (www.pfaf.org) [states] that the catkins are astringent and have been chewed to alleviate diarrhea...I find alder catkins to be a refreshingly seasonal dietary addition, especially when boiled (I liken the taste to corn and potatoes) seasoned with western coltsfoot ash-salt or added raw to boiled worms. Boiled alder seedlings have also proven to be meal-worthy.


Mekka Pakanohida


Joined: Aug 16, 2010
Posts: 383
Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
I understand Alder trees provide massive amounts of Nitrogen into the soil when cut back, i.e. coppice, or chopped down to be used for various reasons. 
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
my son has been pushing back a large alder forest in a swampy area..we are leaving an area about 20 to 30' wide of the alders standing..and pushing down the alders on the west..woods side..of this strip..

these alders are being covered with salvaged brush and logs from clearing areas of our forest of underbrush..and the entire mess (knocked down alders, brush and logs) is being covered with soil from a dig where we are deepening a nearby pond.

thus hugel beds along the west side of an alder swamp/forest area.

next year this area will be overplanted with berry bearing shrubs and small understory fruit trees, i'm sure there will be plenty of oxygen in the soil to make this quite fertile as well as fertility from the rotting wood, and pond floor scummy soil and clay mix.

Paul Cereghino
volunteer

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 847
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
    
  14
Many (all?) Alnus form a symbiosis with a bacteria of the genus Frankia, which fixes atmospheric nitrogen, which I've seen reported at a rate similar to other N-fixers... 100-200 lbs/acre/year.
richie Walsh


Joined: Sep 15, 2010
Posts: 16
Location: Zone 7 Dublin. Ireland
Has anyone figured out a alder guild??

I'm planning to plant a black alder on my allotment for a number of reasons ie: shade (as I have none). to take advantage of the extra nitrogen, and as it is indigenous to northern Europe I hope it will attract more wildlife (birds insects etc)..

I've been looking on line for quite some time but I haven't found any mention of an alder guild. If no one has read/created one could someone please have a look around their alders, and let me know whats growing under and around them?

much appreciated.

Richie.
Paul Cereghino
volunteer

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 847
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
    
  14
Far from N. Europe, but here is a series of monographs on native forest plant associations in the Puget Trought (W. WA, USA).  There is likely similar work done for the British Isles...
http://www1.dnr.wa.gov/nhp/refdesk/communities/index.html
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
well for a guild you usually look to see what is growing in nature near your alders, in our neck of the woods we have several things growing with our alders, a self seeded apple grew right next to one, aspens love them, red maples, oaks, wild cherry, goldenrod, grasses, raspberries and blackberries.

You could build a food garden guild from many of those such as cherry/apple and brambles..but alders can be invasive on wet property so be careful, also they sucker freely.
                          


Joined: Apr 15, 2010
Posts: 13
Alders were known as "biscuit wood" in Maine.  They would produce a quick hot fire which was perfect for cooking a batch of biscuits in an wood cookstove. 

I have heard that alder ash was used in the making of gunpowder because it's such a fine ash. 
Steve Furlong


Joined: Nov 10, 2010
Posts: 40
What I know about this tree so far: it's a nitrogen fixer, it thrives in my climate (temperate maritime), it grows lots of dead-straight rods after it's cut back, and the logs are good for growing oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Anyone got any other benefits of it?
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Here's the Plants for a Future listing for it:  http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Alnus%20glutinosa


Idle dreamer

Steve Furlong


Joined: Nov 10, 2010
Posts: 40
Lovely, thanks!
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3087
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
spalted alder is popular with wood workers and sells for a pretty substantial price.  that's alder wood with a certain amount of decay that creates some really nice dark streaks in the wood.


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Paul Cereghino
volunteer

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 847
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
    
  14
See also http://www.permies.com/bb/index.php?topic=4766.0
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
this appears to be the species of alder that is growing in our area, but it could be a different one. We have NOT made good use of this plant other than allowing it to grow and form nurse plants for trees and to protect wildlife. I know the wood is supposed to be useful but we have never really put it to use..I hope to develop more ideas for using the wood and begin to harvest it for use on and around our property. Was NOT aware that it would hold up well to standing water and I'm wondering if i can't be using it more for outdoor furniture and trellis type situations? I thought it rotted fairly easily .

we cut down quite a bit of it and piled it up last year, and I ran a bunch of it through the chipper this past month..so I will observe how it stands up to the weather and if any wild mushrooms grow on the chips
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
We have alnus rubra here; similar enough. aside form the above, i gather the leaves and use for mulch. some of the best soil i have in my garden is from the mulch of these. - leaves, twigs, easy to gather, light and absorbent, make a fine  bedding for chooks. I stockpile, add to compost, etc. great stuff.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
back to doug bullocks syrup thot- , alder can be used for syrup. Im doing this this year for first time.

cheap, easy in theory. you know how that rolls.

1) tree must be in frost zone where it thaws and freezes daily in late winter/spring in order to produce.

2) 8+d (not unussual, but the bigger the tree,. the more dead air at forest floor, thus more chance of thermal mediations- less temp flux=less sap flow.

3) 40 g sap makes on gallon syrup. 1 tree at 10d makes about 10g syrup/year.

4)bears love syrup.

so while taps are cheap, bears may maul the taps and screw the trees up for several seasons, spill you buckets, and get in your caches. I have bears. love them Must think around them....

and, its not likely a market niche for a few years after I settle into production- probably 6-10 years, if at all. global warming, syrup is supposed to be lower quality/less flavor than maple syrup, etc.... home use, sure, but market? difficult to imagine.
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
what are chooks?

thanks for the info about using the twigs and leaves..I'm realizing the waste i'm leaving here by not using my alder for more than what I'm using it for..and I have a lot of it..and when you cut it, it grows back very quickly from the roots
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3087
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
Brenda Groth wrote:
what are chooks?


that's how folks say "chicken" in several of the Commonwealth countries.  seems to have spread to the U.S. west coast as well.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
red alder- cant speak for glutinosa- but rubra- buds are also tasty one of my favorite first salads- in march- is sorrel and alder buds with miners lettuce. some blue cheese crumbles, and a splash of vinagrette. those buds- thats the first yummy thing of my wildcrafting year. sorrel is ubiquitous.
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
thanks for the hint on the alder buds, I'll put them on my list of things to try this spring. I'm always looking for a new treat to eat that I don't have to plant
maikeru sumi-e


Joined: Dec 14, 2010
Posts: 312
Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
This guy says as they first emerge 'till the stage when they release a lot of pollen, raw or boiled.

Some highlights:




Surprising. I should try this sometime.


.
solomon martin


Joined: Jan 17, 2011
Posts: 102
    
    1
I had a stand of alder once that I converted (briefly) to horse pasture.  They are short lived and quick growing so I didn't have a problem knocking a patch of them down.  They laid on the ground for a year, then I set fire to the area, burned em all up.  The horse is long gone but that pasture now has grass 6ft high!

Alder cuttings are great for stabilizing eroding stream banks, just cut them into 2 or 3 foot sections and bury them halfway in the mud.

I love to use rotten alder for a punk fire when I am smoking fish and meat, it has a really nice flavor.
Perry Way


Joined: Nov 07, 2010
Posts: 65
Alder is an excellent TONE wood.  It is the wood of choice for Fender solid body electric guitars made in America.  The other tone wood that is similar is Ash, but it has a pronounced grain that makes it hard to finish smooth so more Alder has been used for that reason but .. when compared to Ash, Alder is heavier.

Lyvia Dequincey


Joined: Aug 04, 2013
Posts: 45
    
    1
Hm. I have a pasture with poor drainage, and no livestock yet. So I was thinking to expand one edge and then divide the area with a ten foot wide drainage thingie, that leads downhill. Then plant the drianage thingie with willow or alder. Alder would provide nontoxic fodder, firewood, and fix nitrogen for the grass. Willow and bush clover would work too.
jay william


Joined: Aug 27, 2012
Posts: 12
Location: Stokes County, NC
Black alder wood is supposedly one of the best when it comes to water contact or being submerged. So if your building a dock, or maybe a base for a chinampa, then alder is the way to go.


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Chloe Rose


Joined: Feb 14, 2014
Posts: 14
richie Walsh wrote:Has anyone figured out a alder guild??

I'm planning to plant a black alder on my allotment for a number of reasons ie: shade (as I have none). to take advantage of the extra nitrogen, and as it is indigenous to northern Europe I hope it will attract more wildlife (birds insects etc)..

I've been looking on line for quite some time but I haven't found any mention of an alder guild. If no one has read/created one could someone please have a look around their alders, and let me know whats growing under and around them?

much appreciated.

Richie.


I cant say that i known of an alder guild, but if you're in north america, be careful with black alder as its pretty invasive and weedy. Just a heads up, good luck!
Lyvia Dequincey


Joined: Aug 04, 2013
Posts: 45
    
    1
It's a tricky distinction - something that grows fast enough to withstand grazing and be coppiced for wood is generally fast enough that somebody will call it weedy. But it depends on conditions, too.

For me the word weedy depends on the roots - if you decide to take it out, do you have to get every last piece of root? If you want to keep it behind a line, can you just trim it back annually? Or will it sprout from nearby all season?

And then there are some things like dandelions that just pop up everywhere. I would imagine that since it is forage, that deer and horses might like that.
Chloe Rose


Joined: Feb 14, 2014
Posts: 14
Lyvia Dequincey wrote:It's a tricky distinction - something that grows fast enough to withstand grazing and be coppiced for wood is generally fast enough that somebody will call it weedy. But it depends on conditions, too.

For me the word weedy depends on the roots - if you decide to take it out, do you have to get every last piece of root? If you want to keep it behind a line, can you just trim it back annually? Or will it sprout from nearby all season?

And then there are some things like dandelions that just pop up everywhere. I would imagine that since it is forage, that deer and horses might like that.


I've read that alder can develop suckers, and that it's a prolific seeder so you would need to keep an eye on them.
I read a blog the other day, and the author just cuts the alders back every time they get to big (sorry that i dont have the link)
Landon Sunrich


Joined: Jul 09, 2013
Posts: 1026
Location: Western Washington
    
  26
Alder (in this case I am dealing primarily with red alder) seems to be an amazing soil builder. Its nitrogen fixing ability, quickness to rot, and annual deposit of massive amounts of litter has been noted several times above. Today inspired by a video posted by another member:

"Mark Vander Meer speaks at Michael Pilarski's Permaculture design course"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aas3OPXlbsc

I decided to do something I haven't done since I was a kid and go dig some holes in the woods. The woods I am digging in are primarily alder forest and where logged in the late 20's and early 60's. It is currently primarily Red Alder, Salmon Berry, and red elderberry, with a fair bit of nettle and a smattering of hemlock and ceder.

I can only of course speak about this particular woodland - but I think the concept is sound and would apply most places this tree would grow.

The topsoil in this wood varied from spot to spot, but was generally 6 to 12 inches deep. It was light fluffy and a very very deep rich brown - almost black. In some places after 4-6 inches there was a deep red lignin layer of still rotting conifer which was very moist and spongy. Universally at 6-12 where the top soil ended there was a layer 2 to 4 inches of black char - much of it still recognizable as 2 inch thick Douglas fir bark. Often there was several inches of gray ash under this char layer. Everywhere the subsoil was a orange-ish silty clay. There where some areas where the top soil was very deep and I could stick my hand into the ground up to my elbow. Everywhere the soil was easily dig able to the subsoil by bare hand. Really Really nice stuff. All under a alder canopy of 50 or so years old.

Anyhow - Alder - it builds soil really well!

I've written more on alder here in the past. I will hunt down the thread links and post them here on this thread.


Pursuing a masters of edge-ology @ the 'get the f#*k off my land' permaculture homestead
Landon Sunrich


Joined: Jul 09, 2013
Posts: 1026
Location: Western Washington
    
  26
Here is a thread on native plant paring where I discuss some observations I have made in my native alder woods - With pictures

http://www.permies.com/t/21238/ancestral-skills/Favorite-native-plant-pairings
Landon Sunrich


Joined: Jul 09, 2013
Posts: 1026
Location: Western Washington
    
  26
Here is a thread I started on Red Alder before noticing there where already several going - it discusses many of the the plants uses including its use by natives as medicine.

http://www.permies.com/t/27872/trees/Red-Alder-Alnus-Rubra#218784

Here is yet another fairly comprehensive post by Dale Hodgins also exulting the value of alder.

http://www.permies.com/t/10609/plants/Alder-nitrogen-fixation-native-tree#218785
Landon Sunrich


Joined: Jul 09, 2013
Posts: 1026
Location: Western Washington
    
  26
Chloe Rose wrote:

I've read that alder can develop suckers, and that it's a prolific seeder so you would need to keep an eye on them.
I read a blog the other day, and the author just cuts the alders back every time they get to big (sorry that i dont have the link)


Alders are certainly prolific seeders - but as I had never heard of them suckering I did a little research. It seems that some varieties such as Alnus Glutinosa do infact produce by suckers, with others such as Alnus Rubra do not. I can not speak to the suckering black alder, but I have spent my life amongst Red Alders and at least here in their very disturbed native ecosystem - I see them only advancing rapidly in disturbed areas on the margins of their established turf.

Also, worth noting along that line, For the first two or three years the alder is quite supple; which in addition to making it awesomely plastic, bendable, and weave-able - means that it can be mowed down easily often with just a regular lawn mower.

I remember one field near a friends house near the margins of an alder forest. Their would always be thumb thick 6 foot alder popping up all over the place even though they mowed one every year or two with a ridding mower. But when they did mow, sure enough all the alder would get cut back. The roots fixing nitrogen all the while.

I note that Alnus Glutinosa (the suckering black alder) is listed as a weed in New Zealand - and that vary well make sense in their ecology which is no doubt unique and fragile. But in my opinion I think that the Alder (red or black as both seem to be fairly similar in form and function) should be the least of most folks worries when working in an already highly disturbed environment, which is unfortunately most places us humans live now days. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I feel that alder is one of the most powerful plant allies available - at least in my perspective, location, and experiences.

While searching I came across this informative PDF by British Columbia's Ministry of Forest on the Red Alder (Alnus Rubra) and Salmon Berry Complex which discusses PNW Native alder guilds. Link here

Edit: Removed hanging clause
Milo Poehlmann


Joined: Jun 23, 2012
Posts: 19
Location: Mendocino Coast, CA
    
    1
Great thread. Alders make me smile

Thought ya'll would enjoy an excerpt from Stephen Harrod Buhner's book "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers.."

About Alder
Alnus spp.

"Alder is a rarely used botanical medicine at the time, though it is a powerful remedy for a number of conditions. It is strongly astringent, the leaves and bark containing 16 percent tannin. A such, it is an excellent when an astringent is needed. Traditionally, alder has been used as a vulnerary (wound healer) and stomatic. It tonfies the stomach ans small intestine, helping improve food absorption and fat metabolism. It is also a bitter and stimulates gastric secretions. Alder has been used with great effectiveness in eye infections, sore throats, mouth infections, stubborn and bleeding wounds, diarrhea, and skin ulceration. Felter and Lloyd call it a "positive anti-putrefactive agent," and a number of traditional medical herbalists its effectiveness in treating gangrene. The comprehensive recommendation for its use in bacterial infections (mainly of the skin), especially ones of long duration that have resisted alternative treatments, indicate an antibacterial activity to the herb, though i have been unable to find any clinical trails on alder or its constituent properties that might verify this. Its astringent activity is responsible for much of its reputation-both for internal and external afflictions- its main drawback being that it stains the skin and (some) people find its taste unpleasant".


"The wood resists water, and has been much used for posts and piles, for wet situations, the wood becoming hard and durable.
It was formerly employed in making water-pipes, pump trees, and reservoir conduits."
- Felter and Lloyd


Not all those who wander are lost.. -Tolkien
 
 
subject: the value of alder (Alnus glutinosa)
 
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