Sometimes working with Medicine plants is pure magic.
Right now, I'm working with alder. The male and female cones, a few twigs for their bark and a couple of leaves for good measure were turned into both an infused oil and a tincture late in the summer.
|Enlarge this and you'll see the two sorts of cones:|
males (sometimes called catkins) are long and pendulous,
females look like tiny pine cones.
I say, "I'm working with alder" but it's more that alder is working on me.
I've long been intrigued by alder, ever since reading a series of articles Kiva Rose wrote extolling its many medicinal virtues. (I'll put links in at the end of this post). Down where Kiva lives in New Mexico, alder appears as a tall graceful tree along the river banks. The alder we have here in Quebec and most of northeastern North America is no less graceful (especially in winter when the limbs are bare and the cones dangle like earrings), just smaller; a shrub, it's usually found growing in thickets. We mostly call it tag alder, or speckled, or plain old 'swamp alder'. It too loves riverbanks; it's a tree of all wetlands, it also likes to take root in ditches and spring up in abandoned farm fields. It's very, very plentiful, which is a good thing. It's a nitrogen fixer, (meaning it nourishes naturally lean or human-depleted soils), its strong root systems secure riverbanks, and it cleans the waterways it grows next to - in fact there is a saying about alder, "if you don't see alder, don't drink the water".
But you know what? As much as alder is plentiful here, and as much as I know it (from extensive reading) to be a safe medicine and as much as I "should" have got to know it more intimately long ago, I've always been just a teeny bit intimidated by it.
Those thickets have a presence. The way the multiple trunks grow out kind of on a diagonal and criss cross with each other makes an alder thicket seemingly impenetrable. Sometimes you can almost hear a whisper of "no humans beyond this line". Great places for rabbits and other small creatures, but not so much for big bumbling humans. They're amicable enough, I've reached out and grabbed many an alder branch for support as I climb back up a stream bank. But it's rare indeed that alder has reached out and grabbed my attention the way, say, an aspen will, or the lovely beech. Those trees seem to love human company. Even spiky hawthorne is conversational. Alder always seems to just mind its own business, with no particular interest in mine.
Or so I'd thought.
Not too long ago, Paul wrenched his back a bit while shovelling snow. Normally, we'd go for the aspen oil, our favourite for all things wrenched or pulled or aching. But we're getting low on aspen so I suggested it might be the ideal time to try out the batch of alder infused oil I'd made.
I poured some into the palm of my hand to massage it into his back. The first thing I noticed was how slippery it felt - which is quite a feat, considering those cones and twigs were sticky as all get out when I chopped them up to infuse them in the olive oil. Olive oil, as you know, is fairly heavy. Somehow, sticky plant parts + heavy oil = lighter? Interesting.
But the next thing I noticed was a feeling of pure, unadulterated glee in my hand. Yeah, that sounds crazy to me, too, how can a hand feel glee? The glee spread itself lickety-split right through me and I found myself grinning like a fool. Ear to ear.
It worked well on Paul's pain. Not the instant sensation of being comforted by a warm hug that one gets from aspen, the alder is slower acting, and cooler. But as we tried it on various of his other aches and pains and knots (hey, it's winter and the man chops wood and shovels snow, it happens) it turned out to not only give real relief but it actually fixed one knot that nothing else had really touched. As in, the pain left and didn't come back. Honestly, I wasn't surprised by any of that, Kiva does rave about it and I trust her. I knew it would "work". But that glee? That was intriguing, so I followed it to see where it would take me.
Here's an excerpt from my journal:
"Then my mind and heart filled with images of alders, they crowded around me in a friendly, protective playful way. Alder-spirit whispered secrets to me, no, not secrets, it's just that I can't share them in words (yet). Alder was happy, over-joyed, like a genie released from captivity and eager to serve/please ..? .. not quite. Everything I try to say comes out 'not quite' whereas Alder is about exactly right, or correct. Yes, correct.
Alder seems to correct what isn't quite right. It seems thrilled to be given the opportunity to do so. Joy, I keep getting that sense of joy.
And water. Clean, gurgling, sunlight filled water."
So the next day, I started working with the tincture. Again, from my notes (snippets):
"I have it in front of me now. It smells like ... cherries? It's a lovely red. 3 drops in an inch of water. And a little on my wrist.
There's that 'secret' thing again. I 'saw' the Isle of Avalon, protected by Alder, she lets you through if you're one of Her own.
This is the Goddess's medicine. This is being able to discern the path through the thicket, the shapes in the shadows. Differentiation, one thing from another, not telling them apart as different but recognizing each thing and each other thing as patterns of One thing.
I'm very, very high. Kiva did not mention that possibility and she gets high easily.
I can 'see' the associations betwixt alder and fairies (funny because they used it to make them invisible to humans, according to Jesse Wolfe Hardin).
There's a feeling of excitement, still, now as the Alder meets and greets me from the inside. It's the plant's excitement, my body is still not entirely sure what's going on. Trust the Alder, I'm telling it/myself, it knows what to do, let it take over"
The notes go on for pages as impressions washed over me. I've spent several days with alder now, using the oil here and there topically, taking a few drops of the tincture a few times a day. As it's been working on a physical level (very nicely, and I'll elaborate on that in another post) what's also exciting is what's going on at other, deeper levels. Discernment - it's helping me to connect the physical with the emotional, meaning I can see which of my physical symptoms are coming from aspects in my deeper Self that have become stuck or blocked or separated from the rest of me. I'm finding my way through the thickets, discerning shapes in the shadows.
This is the basis, the whole point of Medicine plants, that their energies or personalities or spirits or whatever we choose to call them interact with ours just as their physical properties interact with our bodies. When we gather these plants from the wild, when we meet them where they live, we're granted access to the whole be-ing of the plant, not just its chemistry. And then, my friends, we're granted greater access to those deeper parts of our own be-ing, it's the multidimensional relationship we develop with these allies that is the key. That's why the tribal "Medicine" people all over the world make no distinction between the spirit and the body; they understand that illness often develops from dividing self from Self in the first place.
Now for some links, for those interested:
Kiva Rose has written a lot on alder, here is a nice synopsis, use the search engine once you get there if you want more.
Alder is rich in folklore, there's a quick overview to get you started here from a British source.
And here is a nicely put together article about the alders we have in Ontario & Quebec, with good pictures for those of you who will be out looking for them, and further explanation on 'nitrogen fixing'.