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Folklore Friday - the Alder tree

Alder trees feature often in Celtic Mythology and Folklore. They are said to be home to fairies, they are the symbol of Bran in Welsh Mythology and are most often associated with water, secrecy, nature, bad luck, spirituality, and balance. Legend has it that the king of the goblins lives within an alder tree and if you cut it it will bleed.

Alder wood can survive completely submerged in water, and was often used for construction of buckets, pipes, bridges over water, and other construction in wet conditions. Parts of Venice, Italy are built on top of Alder piles which were driven in to the swamp. Dyes made from alder flowers were once used to colour fabric for garments, and folklore says that fairies’ clothes were dyed with alder pigment to conceal them from human eyes.

Three colours could be obtained: brown from the twigs, red from the bark and green from the flowers. Both the bark and the wood contain tannin, used for tanning leather.

Alder burns with an intense heat, making it an ideal fire for forging weapons, and some Bronze Age archaeological finds have revealed the use of alder to make charcoal. Smoke from alder fires was used for divination, as was the movement of the flames. On the living tree, omens were seen in the way the branches moved in the wind, and heard in the rustle of its leaves. Whistles made from alder wood are said to summon the wind and enlist the help of benevolent water spirits.

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