Requests: If you need specific information on this remedy - e.g. a proving or a case info on toxicology or whatsoever, please post a message in the Request area www.homeovision.org/forum/ so that all users may contribute.
Dioscorides describes two species of Elder: Sambucus nigra and S. humilis vel Ebulus. Hippocrates employed Sambucus in medicine. This plant was well known to the Arabian physicians. It is the Acte of Rhases, and the Aktha of Ebn Baithar. According to Dr. Adams (op. cit.), the Sambucus of Avicenna is not the Elder, but the jasmine; and the Arabians and Syrians of the present day still use the inner green bark for the same purposes for which it was employed in earlier times. It was employed by Boerhaave and Sydenham as a powerful hydragogue and cathartic in dropsies, and it is still a popular remedy for the same disease. The flowers were formerly used a an infusion for erysipelas, rheumatisms, small pox, etc. It was the chief ingredient in Lady Mary Douglas's specific; and Elder - flower water and Elder - flower ointment were in every domestic medicine case; the North American Indians make an eye - water from the young leaves of the Elder. (Hamiltons' Flora)
Its uses are manifold and important. The wood of old trees is white and of a fine, close grain, easily cut, and polishes well, hence it was used for making skewers for butchers, shoemakers' pegs, and various turned articles, such as tops for angling rods and needles for weaving nets, also for making combs, mathematical instruments and several different musical instruments, and the pith of the younger stems, which is exceedingly light, is cut into balls and is used for electrical experiments and for making small toys. It is also considerably used for holding small objects for sectioning for microscopical purposes.
In a cutting of Worlidge's Mystery of Husbandry (dated 1675) the Elder is included in the 'trees necessary and proper for fencing and enclosing of Lands.'
'A considerable Fence,' he writes, 'may be made of Elder, set of reasonable hasty Truncheons, like the Willow and may be laid with great curiosity: this makes a speedy shelter for a garden from Winds, Beasts and suchlike injuries,'
though he adds and emphasizes with italics, 'rather than from rude Michers.'
The word 'micher' is now obsolete, but it means a lurking thief, a skulking vagabond. By clipping two or three times a year, an Elder hedge may, however, be made close and compact in growth. There is an old tradition that an Elder stake will last in the ground longer than an iron bar of the same size, hence the old couplet:
'An eldern stake and a black thorn ether (hedge)
Will make a hedge to last for ever.'
The leaves have an unpleasant odour when bruised, which is supposed to be offensive to most insects, and a decoction of the young leaves is sometimes employed by gardeners to sprinkle over delicate plants and the buds of the flowers to keep off the attacks of aphis and minute caterpillars. Moths are fond of the blossoms, but it was stated by Christopher Gullet (Phil. Trans., 1772, LXII) that if turnips, cabbages, fruit trees or corn be whipped with bunches of the green leaves, they gain immunity from blight. Though this does not sound a very practical procedure, there is evidently some foundation for this statement, as the following note which appeared in the Chemist and Druggist, January 6, 1923, would seem to prove:
'A liquid preparation for preventing, and also curing, blight in fruit trees, wherein the base is a liquid obtained by boiling the young shoots of the Elder tree or bush, mixed with suitable proportions of copper sulphate, iron sulphate, nicotine, soft soap, methylated spirit and slaked lime.'
The leaves, bruised, if worn in the hat or rubbed on the face, prevent flies settling on the person. In order to safeguard the skin from the attacks of mosquitoes, midges and other troublesome flies, an infusion of the leaves may be dabbed on with advantage. Gather a few fresh leaves from the elder, tear them from their stalks and place them in a jug, pouring boiling water on them and covering them at once, leaving for a few hours. When the infusion is cold, it is fit for use and should be at once poured off into a bottle and kept tightly corked. It is desirable to make a fresh infusion often. The leaves are said to be valued by the farmer for driving mice away from granaries and moles from their usual haunts.
The bark of the older branches has been used in the Scotch Highlands as an ingredient in dyeing black, also the root. The leaves yield, with alum, a green dye and the berries dye blue and purple, the Juice yielding with alum, violet; with alum and salt, a lilac colour.
The botanist finds in this plant an object of considerable interest, for if a twig is partially cut, then cautiously broken and the divided portions are carefully drawn asunder, the spiral air-vessels, resembling a screw, may be distinctly seen.
Linnaeus observed that sheep eat the leaves, also cows, but that horses and goats refuse it. If sheep that have the foot-rot can get at the bark and young shoots, they will cure themselves. Elderberries are eaten greedily by young birds and pigeons, but are said to have serious effects on chickens: the flowers are reported to be fatal to turkeys, and according to Linnaeus, also to peacocks.
Elder Flowers and Elder Berries have long been used in the English countryside for making many home-made drinks and preserves that are almost as great favourites now as in the time of our great-grandmothers. The berries make an excellent home-made wine and winter cordial, which improves with age, and taken hot with sugar, just before going to bed, is an old-fashioned and wellestablished cure for a cold.
In Kent, there are entire orchards of Elder trees cultivated solely for the sake of their fruit, which is brought regularly to market and sold for the purpose of making wine. The berries are not only used legitimately for making Elderberry Wine, but largely in the manufacture of so-called British wines - they give a red colour to raisin wine - and in the adulteration of foreign wines. Judiciously flavoured with vinegar and sugar and small quantities of port wine, Elder is often the basis of spurious 'clarets' and 'Bordeaux.' 'Men of nice palates,' says Berkeley (Querist, 1735), 'have been imposed on by Elder Wine for French Claret.' Cheap port is often faked to resemble tawny port by the addition of Elderberry juice, which forms one of the least injurious ingredients of factitious port wines. Doctoring port wine with Elderberry juice seems to have assumed such dimensions that in 1747 this practice was forbidden in Portugal, even the cultivation of the Elder tree was forbidden on this account. The practice proving so lucrative, however, is by no means obsolete, but as the berries possess valuable medicinal properties, this adulteration has no harmful results. The circumstances under which this was proved are somewhat curious. In 1899 an American sailor informed a physician of Prague that getting drunk on genuine, old, dark-red port was a sure remedy for rheumatic pains. This unedifying observation started a long series of investigations ending in the discovery that while genuine port wine has practically no anti-neuralgic properties, the cheap stuff faked to resemble tawny port by the addition of elderberry juice often banishes the pain of sciatica and other forms of neuralgia, though of no avail in genuine neuritis. Cases of cure have been instanced after many tests carried out by leading doctors in Prague and other centres abroad, the dose recommended being 30 grams of Elderberry juice mixed with 10 grams of port wine.
The Romans, as Pliny records, made use of it in medicine, as well as of the Dwarf Elder (Sambucus Ebulus). Both kinds were employed in Britain by the ancient English and Welsh leeches and in Italy in the medicine of the School of Salernum. Elder still keeps its place in the British Pharmacopoeia, the cooling effects of Elder flowers being well known. In many parts of the country, Elder leaves and buds are used in drinks, poultices and ointments.
It has been termed 'the medicine chest of the country people' (Ettmueller) and 'a whole magazine of physic to rustic practitioners,' and it is said the great physician Boerhaave never passed an Elder without raising his hat, so great an opinion had he of its curative properties. How great was the popular estimation of it in Shakespeare's time may be gauged by the line in the Merry Wives of Windsor, Act II, Sc. 3:
'What says my ?sculapius? my Galen? my heart of Elder?'
John Evelyn, writing in praise of the Elder, says:
'If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countryman could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy from every hedge, either for sickness, or wounds.'
'The buds boiled in water gruel have effected wonders in a fever, the spring buds are excellently wholesome in pattages; and small ale in which Elder flowers have been infused is esteemed by many so salubrious that this is to be had in most of the eatinghouses about our town.'
He also, as we have seen, recommends Elder flowers infused in vinegar as an ingredient of a salad, 'though the leaves are somewhat rank of smell and so not commendable in sallet they are of the most sovereign virtue,' and goes so far as to say, 'an extract composed of the berries greatly assists longevity. Indeed this is a catholicum against all infirmities whatever.'
Some twenty years before Evelyn's eulogy there had appeared in 1644 a book entirely devoted to its praise: The Anatomie of the Elder, translated from the Latin of Dr. Martin Blockwich by C. de Iryngio (who seems to have been an army doctor), a treatise of some 230 pages, that in Latin and English went through several editions. It deals very learnedly with the medicinal virtues of the tree - its flowers, berries, leaves, 'middle bark,' pith, roots and 'Jew's ears,' a large fungus often to be found on the Elder (Hirneola auricula Judae), the name a corruption of 'Judas's ear,' from the tradition, referred to above, that Judas hanged himself on the Elder. It is of a purplish tint, resembling in shape and softness the human ear, and though it occurs also on the Elm, it grows almost exclusively on Elder trunks in damp, shady places. It is curious that on account of this connexion with Judas, the fungus should have (as Sir Thomas Browne says) 'become a famous medicine in quinses, sore-throats, and strangulation ever since.' Gerard says, 'the jelly of the Elder otherwise called Jew's ear, taketh away inflammations of the mouth and throat if they be washed therewith and doth in like manner help the uvula,' and Salmon, writing in the early part of the eighteenth century, recommends an oil of Jew's ears for throat affections. The fungus is edible and allied species are eaten in China.
Evelyn refers to this work (or rather to the original by 'Blockwitzius,' as he calls him!) for the comprehensive statement in praise of the Elder quoted above. It sets forth that as every part of the tree was medicinal, so virtually every ailment of the body was curable by it, from toothache to the plague. It was used externally and internally, and in amulets (these were especially good for epilepsy, and in popular belief also for rheumatism), and in every kind of form - in rob and syrup, tincture, mixture, oil, spirit, water, liniment, extract, salt, conserve, vinegar, oxymel, sugar, decoction, bath, cataplasm and powder. Some of these were prepared from one part of the plant only, others from several or from all. Their properties are summed up as 'desiccating, conglutinating, and digesting,' but are extended to include everything necessary to a universal remedy. The book prescribes in more or less detail for some seventy or more distinct diseases or classes of diseases, and the writer is never at a loss for an authority - from Dioscorides to the Pharmacopoeias of his own day-while the examples of cures he adduces are drawn from all classes of people, from Emylia, Countess of Isinburg, to the tradesmen of Heyna and their dependants.
The interest in the Elder evinced about this period is also demonstrated by a tract on 'Elder and Juniper Berries, showing how useful they may be in our Coffee Houses,' which was published with The Natural History of Coffee, in 1682. (http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/mgmh.html)
The word 'Elder' comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld. In Anglo-Saxon days we find the tree called Eldrun, which becomes Hyldor and Hyllantree in the fourteenth century. One of its names in modern German - Hollunder - is clearly derived from the same origin. In Low-Saxon, the name appears as Ellhorn. ?ld meant 'fire,' the hollow stems of the young branches having been used for blowing up a fire: the soft pith pushes out easily and the tubes thus formed were used as pipes - hence it was often called Pipe-Tree, or Bore-tree and Bour-tree, the latter name remaining in Scotland and being traceable to the Anglo-Saxon form, Burtre.
The generic name Sambucus occurs in the writings of Pliny and other ancient writers and is evidently adapted from the Greek word Sambuca, the Sackbut, an ancient musical instrument in much use among the Romans, in the construction of which, it is surmised, the wood of this tree, on account of its hardness, was used. The difficulty, however, of accepting this is that the Sambuca was a stringed instrument, while anything made from the Elder would doubtless be a wind instrument, something of the nature of a Pan-pipe or flute. Pliny records the belief held by country folk that the shrillest pipes and the most sonorous horns were made of Elder trees which were grown out of reach of the sound of cock-crow. At the present day, Italian peasants construct a simple pipe, which they call sampogna, from the branches of this plant.
The popular pop-gun of small boys in the country has often been made of Elder stems from which the pith has been removed, which moved Culpepper to declare: 'It is needless to write any description of this (Elder), since every boy that plays with a pop-gun will not mistake another tree for the Elder.' Pliny's writings also testify that pop-guns and whistles are manufactures many centuries old!
A wealth of folk-lore, romance and superstition centre round this English tree. Shakespeare, in Cymbeline, referring to it as a symbol of grief, speaks slightingly of it as 'the stinking Elder,' yet, although many people profess a strong dislike to the scent of its blossom, the shrub is generally beloved by all who see it. In countrysides where the Elder flourishes it is certainly one of the most attractive features of the hedgerow, while its old-world associations have created for it a place in the hearts of English people.
In Love's Labour Lost reference is made to the common medieval belief that 'Judas was hanged on an Elder.' We meet with this tradition as far back in English literature as Langland's Vision of Piers Plowman (middle of the fourteenth century, before Chaucer):
'Judas he japed with Jewen silver
And sithen an eller hanged hymselve.'
Why the Elder should have been selected as a gallows for the traitor Apostle is, considering the usual size of the tree, puzzling; but Sir John Mandeville in his travels, written about the same time, tells us that he was shown 'faste by' the Pool of Siloam, the identical 'Tree of Eldre that Judas henge himself upon, for despeyr that he hadde, when he solde and betrayed oure Lord.' Gerard scouts the tradition and says that the Judas-tree (Cercis siliquastrum) is 'the tree whereon Judas did hange himselfe.'
Another old tradition was that the Cross of Calvary was made of it, and an old couplet runs:
'Bour tree - Bour tree: crooked rong
Never straight and never strong;
Ever bush and never tree
Since our Lord was nailed on thee.'
In consequence of these old traditions, the Elder became the emblem of sorrow and death, and out of the legends which linger round the tree there grew up a host of superstitious fancies which still remain in the minds of simple country folk. Even in these prosaic days, one sometimes comes across a hedge-cutter who cannot bring himself to molest the rampant growth of its spreading branches for fear of being pursued by ill-luck. An old custom among gypsies forbade them using the wood to kindle their camp fires and gleaners of firewood formerly would look carefully through the faggots lest a stick of Elder should have found its way into the bundle, perhaps because the Holy Cross was believed to have been fashioned out of a giant elder tree, though probably the superstitious awe of harming the Elder descended from old heathen myths of northern Europe. In most countries, especially in Denmark, the Elder was intimately connected with magic. In its branches was supposed to dwell a dryad, Hylde-Moer, the Elder-tree Mother, who lived in the tree and watched over it. Should the tree be cut down and furniture be made of the wood, Hylde-Moer was believed to follow her property and haunt the owners. Lady Northcote, in The Book of Herbs, relates:
'There is a tradition that once when a child was put in a cradle of Elder-wood, HyldeMoer came and pulled it by the legs and would give it no peace till it was lifted out Permission to cut Elder wood must always be asked first and not until Hylde-Moer has given consent by keeping silence, may the chopping begin.'
'Our forefathers also held the Ellhorn holy wherefore whoever need to hew it down (or cut its branches) has first to make request "Lady Ellhorn, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest" - the which, with partly bended knees, bare head and folded arms was ordinarily done, as I myself have often seen and heard in my younger years.'
Mr. Jones (quoted in The Treasury of Botany), in his Notes on Certain Superstitions in the Vale of Gloucester, cites the following, said to be no unusual case:
'Some men were employed in removing an old hedgerow, partially formed of Eldertrees. They had bound up all the other wood into faggots for burning, but had set apart the elder and enquired of their master how it was to be disposed of. Upon his saying that he should of course burn it with the rest, one of the men said with an air of undisguised alarm, that he had never heard of such a thing as burning Ellan Wood, and in fact, so strongly did he feel upon the subject, that he refused to participate in the act of tying it up. The word Ellan (still common with us) indicates the origin of the superstition.'
In earlier days, the Elder Tree was supposed to ward off evil influence and give protection from witches, a popular belief held in widely-distant countries. Lady Northcote says:
'The Russians believe that Elder-trees drive away evil spirits, and the Bohemians go to it with a spell to take away fever. The Sicilians think that sticks of its wood will kill serpents and drive away robbers, and the Serbs introduce a stick of Elder into their wedding ceremonies to bring good luck. In England it was thought that the Elder was never struck by lightning, and a twig of it tied into three or four knots and carried in the pocket was a charm against rheumatism. A cross made of Elder and fastened to cowhouses and stables was supposed to keep all evil from the animals.'
In Cole's Art of Simpling (1656) we may read how in the later part of the seventeenth century:
'in order to prevent witches from entering their houses, the common people used to gather Elder leaves on the last day of April and affix them to their doors and windows,'
and the tree was formerly much cultivated near English cottages for protection against witches .
The use of the Elder for funeral purposes was an old English custom referred to by Spenser,
'The Muses that were wont green Baies to weave,
Now bringen bittre Eldre braunches seare.'
-------Shepheard's Calendar - November.
And Canon Ellacombe says that in the Tyrol:
'An Elder bush, trimmed into the form of a cross, is planted on a new-made grave, and if it blossoms, the soul of the person Iying beneath it is happy.'
Green Elder branches were also buried in a grave to protect the dead from witches and evil spirits, and in some parts it was a custom for the driver of the hearse to carry a whip made of Elder wood.
In some of the rural Midlands, it is believed that if a child is chastised with an Elder switch, it will cease to grow, owing, in this instance, to some supposed malign influence of the tree. On the other hand, Lord Bacon commended the rubbing of warts with a green Elder stick and then burying the stick to rot in the mud, and for erysipelas, it was recommended to wear about the neck an amulet made of Elder 'on which the sun had never shined.'
In Denmark we come across the old belief that he who stood under an Elder tree on Midsummer Eve would see the King of Fairyland ride by, attended by all his retinue. Folkard, in Plant-Lore, Legends and Lyrics, relates:
'The pith of the branches when cut in round, flat shapes, is dipped in oil, lighted, and then put to float in a glass of water; its light on Christmas Eve is thought to reveal to the owner all the witches and sorcerers in the neighbourhood';
'On Bertha Night (6th January), the devil goes about with special virulence. As a safeguard, persons are recommended to make a magic circle, in the centre of which they should stand, with Elderberries gathered on St. John's night. By doing this, the mystic Fern-seed may be obtained, which possesses the strength of thirty or forty men.'
This is a Styrian tradition.
The whole tree has a narcotic smell, and it is not considered wise to sleep under its shade. Perhaps the visions of fairyland were the result of the drugged sleep! No plant will grow under the shadow of it, being affected by its exhalations. (http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/mgmh.html)
Elder has been a popular herb for hundreds of years. All parts of the plant have been used at one time or another to make everything from wine to flutes. It grows both in the wild and cultivated in gardens and in earlier times enjoyed quite a reputation of mysticism and magic. Elder wood was thought to have been used to make the cross on which Jesus was crucified and the tree on which Judas hung himself. Because of this, it became a symbol of sorrow and death. Perhaps because of this, a tradition developed among villagers and gypsies to avoid elder wood for kindling fires. In Denmark, Hylde-Moer, the Elder-tree Mother, was believed to live in the elder. Permission for cutting the tree needed to be granted and a small ceremony grew up. If the tree were cut without permission, Hylde-Moer would accompany the wood to its destination and haunt the owner. Mrs. Grieve relates a tale from The Book of Herbs by Lady Northcote,
‘There is a tradition that once when a child was put in a cradle of Elder-wood, Hylde-Moer came and pulled it by the legs and would give it no peace till it was lifted out. Permission to cut Elder wood must always be asked first and not until Hylde-Moer has given consent by keeping silent, may the chopping begin.’ (1)
Another belief surrounding the elder tree was that it could ward off evil spirits and witches. Perhaps this was the reason why many English gardens had elder trees as hedges or near the house and barn. In Cole’s Art of Simpling, dated 1656, as related by Mrs. Grieve,
‘in order to prevent witches from entering their houses, the common people used to gather Elder leaves on the last day of April and affix them to their doors and windows,’
In Denmark it was believed that whoever stood under the elder tree on Midsummer Eve would see the King of Fairyland ride by, attended by all his court. The whole tree has a narcotic smell and it is not considered a good idea to stay under it too long. Perhaps this contributed to the vision of Fairyland! (1)
The elder was considered a great and powerful plant, and was, in the eyes of the people, a "cure all" for everything from toothache to the plague. The leaves, flowers, berries, bark and roots all have activity of varying degrees and different uses. (1) The flowers and berries have a cool and drying energy and a bitter taste. The bark is hot and drying with a bitter taste. (2) The leaves and roots were used externally to promote healing of bones, sprained muscles and ligaments, bruises and hemorrhoids. (2,3) The bark, leaves, and roots are not used often today due to their potential toxicity. The stems of the elder should not be used at all, because they contain cyanide. (4) The active constituents in elder are anthocyanin, B-complex vitamins, volatile oil, viburnic acid, tannic acid, sambucine, mucilage, vitamins A and C, carbohydrates, potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium salts, sambunigrin, tyrosin and eldrin. (1,2,3,4)
Since the different parts of the elder are used in different ways, it is easier to describe each part separately. Elder leaves have been used in ointments and oils to treat bruises, sprains, chilblains (itching, swelling and redness caused by mild frostbite of the fingers, toes or ears) and hemorrhoids. (1,2). The fresh leaves were gathered in June and July and heated in lard and rendered suet until the oils were green. The oil was strained and the resulting product was called Green Elder Ointment. Another recipe of fresh elder leaves, fresh plantain leaves fresh ground ivy and wormwood in lard was used to treat swellings, wounds and several kinds of tumors. (1) These ointments were considered cooling by herbalists of the time and therefore employed for reducing symptoms of heat, like redness, pain, and swelling. (1) Herbalists today may still use elder leaves alone or in combination with comfrey, plantain, ground ivy, wormwood or eucalyptus in ointments. The leaves are not used for internal purposes because they are strongly emetic. (3)
Because it has a diuretic action, the bark has been used for edema and dropsy (fluid build up in the abdomen) caused by weakened kidneys or a weak heart. A decoction of the dried bark will also give immediate relief of epileptic symptoms. (3) The bark should be collected in autumn (1) and dried for a least a year before use to temper its action. (3) It may also be used as a liver stimulant and was taken in the past to relieve stubborn constipation and arthritic conditions. (2) Because of its warming and drying properties, it can be used to reduce congestion in asthma. (3) To make a tea, use 1 oz. (30g) of dried, one-year old bark in a pint (480ml) of boiling water. Let it steep for 15 to 20 minutes. To relieve constipation and reduce edema, take _ cup (120ml) of the tea every 3 hours until elimination has occurred. If the edema is severe, continue drinking _ cup until urine is also voided. Reduce the dose afterwards to maintain water balance. Stools should not be watery if there is no more edema or dropsy. To treat spasmodic asthma, take one tablespoonful or more to reduce inflammation in the lungs. A teaspoon of powdered ginger or cloves may be added to reduce nausea. Leftover tea may be refrigerated for up to 3 days. (3)
Elder flowers bloom for about three weeks in June. In the earlier part of this century, the fresh flowers were used to make Elder Flower Water. This was a common article among every lady’s toiletries to keep complexions clear and remove unwanted freckles. It was also used to mix with other medicines and as an eye and skin lotion. (1) Today the dried flowers are more commonly used as a first choice in treating feverish colds and flu, because they promote sweating and reduce congestion due to their diaphoretic, astringent and expectorant actions. They also have alterative properties, which make them useful as a blood detoxifier. (1,3) A cup of dried elder flower tea every morning in the springtime before breakfast was recommended to clean the blood of built-up toxins. If taken two to three months prior to the start of allergy season, it can reduce the severity of hayfever. (2) Because elder flowers may cause nausea, peppermint, spearmint or chamomile can be mixed with them. To promote perspiration and reduce or remove congestion in the treatment of colds, flu, fevers, and pneumonia, mix 2 oz. (60g) of dried elder flowers and 2 oz. of chamomile or mint together. Steep the herbs in 1 _ pints (720ml) boiling water for 30 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey. Drink the tea as hot as possible and keep the person covered. (3) Other herbs such as boneset or yarrow may also be added. (2)
Elder flower tea may also be used externally to treat hemorrhoids, boils, tumors, sunburn and rashes. Elder flowers have a mildly astringent action (1) and are anti-inflammatory when used externally. (2) Steep about _ oz. dried flowers in 1 quart (1 liter) of boiling water for one hour, then strain. Soak a linen cloth in the tea and apply to the affected area. (1) An ointment can also be made from the fresh flowers and is used similarly to Green Elder Ointment described above. A cold infusion of elder flowers can be used to treat sore or inflamed eyes. (1,2,3)
The ripe berries of the elder are a dark blue-black and a good source of vitamins A and C. (2) They can be used to make juice, jam, jelly, syrup and wine. Dried elder berries may be used as a substitute for raisins in cooking. (3) They have the weakest activity of all the parts of the plant, but make a good winter tonic to strengthen the body against colds. Mrs. Grieve gives this recipe for elderberry jam in her book, A Modern Herbal:
‘To every pound of berries add _ pint of water, the juice of 2 lemons and 1 lb. of sugar. Boil from 30 to 45 minutes, until it sets when tested. Put into jars and tie down when cold.’
Every part of the plant has been used for dying cloth. The bark and roots were used as ingredients for black dye, the leaves will dye green and the berries will dye blue, lilac or violet depending on the mordant used. (1) The stems were used to make flutes or blow guns once the pith was pushed out. Few other plants have so many uses as the elder.
Elder trees are not seen as often today as in earlier days, perhaps because people have forgotten their many uses. Few people take time to collect berries for jelly or wine, if they can find any. Land development has taken away many wild and cultivated places where elder trees once grew. The mystery and myths surrounding this most useful member of the herb family are fading away, but its value, as an important medicinal plant should not.
also known as Elhorn, Elderberry, Lady Elder
sacred to the goddess and Midsummer Solstice; burned in honor of the Goddess as an offering; used in a bath to prepare for goddess rituals
the elder is a small tree covered with edible, fragrant blossoms in summer and juicy purple berries in autumn which countryfolk use in jams, jellies, wines, and medicinal syrups
the elder was a sacred tree in Ireland, and it was forbidden to break even one twig
The Druids used it to both bless and curse.
Standing under an elder tree at Midsummer, like standing in a Fairy Ring of mushrooms, will help you see the "little people"; stand or sleep under an elder on Midsummer Eve to see the King of the fairies and his retinue pass by
Elder wands can be used to drive out evil spirits or thought forms
Music on panpipes or flutes of elder have the same power as the wand
it has the power to keep lightning away from the house
at Beltaine, elder twigs are woven into a garland and worn round the head to give the wearer "second sight"
the flowers are used in wish-fulfillment spells; the leaves, flowers and berries are strewn on a person, place, or thing to bless it
an herb of blessing and consecration, often seen at marriages;
like the willow, the elder has strong feminine associations; the correct way to approach the tree was to say:"Old Woman, give me some of thy wood, and I will give thee some of mine when I grow into a tree." Without this greeting, ill-luck was sure to follow.
Unfortunately, the Elder-Mother, venerated for the healing properties of her tree, later became feared as a witch; in Ireland witches were thought to use elder boughs as magick horses, and in England, the crooked-branches tree was thought to be the form of a bent old witch who would bleed when she was cut
in other parts of the British Isles, the elder was less feared but still retained its magickal associations; if the eyes were bathed in the green juice of the wood, you could see fairies and witches; elderberries picked on Midsummer's Eve conferred magick powers; on the Isle of Man, elders were the dwelling place of elves
the elder was a benevolent and protective tree; an amulet can be made by plucking an elder twig in October just before the full moon; the wood between the knots is cut into nine pieces which are bound in a piece of linen and hung around the neck so that they touch the heart; they hang there until the thread breaks, at which point the amulet must be buried where it cannot be found
in Scotland it ranked only second to the rowan for its ability to ward off evil spells and witchcraft; crosses made of elder twigs hung over stables and barns to protect the livestock; drivers of hearses carried whip-handled made of elder to protect from evil influences
in Ireland it was one of the magickal trees carried in the Beltaine procession
Devil’s Eye - Elder - sambucus nigra
Leaf flower and berries are used. Originally the trees are believed to be inhabited and protected by dryads, thus explaining why the red sap was thought to be blood. Powerful protection herb. A shield from lightning and storms. Prevents negative magick from entering a house. Scatter in a circle while invoking the four winds for protection. Frequently used for wands. Music from instruments composed of the wood or twigs is believed to summon spirits. Believed to have the power to force negative magick workers to break spells or enchantment they have placed on you. Also used for blessings and to invoke joy and happiness when placed in sachets or sprinkled as a powder. Associated with the element of air. Feminine
Celtic name: Ruis
Textual reference: Ruis is Elder, the redness of shame.
Word Ogham of Morainn: TINNEM RUICE, intensest of blushes, it is reddening of a man’s face through the juice of the herb being rubbed on it.
Word Ogham of Cuchulain: BRUTH FERGGA .i. IMDERGADH, arduous anger, punishment.
Word Ogham of Aonghus: ROMNAD DRECH, redness of faces.
[…] A tea made from the flowers is good for the treatment of coughs and irritating throat conditions. A shampoo made from the boiled berries has the effect of darkening the hair, as well as cleaning it. The boiled leaves, if mixed with olive oil and allowed to cool, are an excellent drop for inflammation or pains in the ears. A distillation made from the flowers is a good skin cleanser, a cure for headaches and the common cold, and an excellent tonic for the blood. The bark of the smaller and newer twigs can be dried and administered as a laxative. Various parts of the tree can be used to obtain different colored dyes. The bark provides a deep, black dye, the leaves a rich green, and the flowers, blue or lilac dyes. The stems have a soft centre that can be hollowed out to make whistles, pea-shooters, and pop-guns for the amusement of children and adults alike.
[…] To the ancient Celts, and to many other races today, it is considered vital to have a good reputation for being brave, honourable, and above all, truthful. The image others have of you is not only necessary during your lifetime in this world, but has to remain so after your physical death. […]
The mental level of the elder is a meditation or contemplation on this point […] The textual description of the elder, “the redness of shame”, gives an indication as to the probable outcome of these thoughts and ideas. Similarly the Word Ogham of Morainn, “intensest of blushes”, and the Word Ogham of Aonghus, “redness of faces”, touch on this point. More often than not, when you try to review the good and bad points of your life, it is the bad ones that seem most prominent. To overcome this, it is important to accept that you cannot change what you have already done, but you can learn from it and make sure you do not repeat these errors in the future. You can also use your mistakes in a positive way by admitting them to yourself and to others and, if appropriate, by making any necessary compensation for damage done. This is the “arduous anger, punishment” to which the Word Ogham of Cuchulain refers. There is a poem from the Lays of Fionn called “The Headless Phantoms” in which Fionn finds himself spending the night in a strange house, where the owner is burning elder logs. Throughout the long night, Fionn is forced to face all sorts of horrible, taunting cretures. He eventually falls into a swoon and, when he wakens in the morning, the house, the owner, and the phantoms have all disappeared. This is an allegory for facing up to those aspects of yourself that you have previously tried to repress, but that, if you are to progress at all, you must challenge and deal with as necessary.
There are other things that will come to mind during the mental exercises of the elder that do not fit neatly into the above category of identifiable mistakes. These are tricky to recognise and deal with, and include such things a bias, bigotry, unfairness, selfishness, and a desire to acquire things just to have them. These must be reconciled before the blushings of the elder will go away, and you can hold your head high with confidence.
Recognizing the good things you have done, the achievements you have made, the help you have given, and so forth, is as important as acknowledging the wrong things you have done. For some curious reason, those of us who live in the western world today are discouraged from singing our own praises, as if to do so is somehow morally wrong. If praises are really due, it is a good thing to be able to admit this, at least to yourself, along with admitting the not-so-good things. There must always be balance. Having your good points recognized and praised by others can also bring on the effect of the elder, blushing and reddening of face.
The spiritual lesson of this final consonant in the Tree Ogham is the cleansing and purging needed to complete the mental exercises given above. This means that you will have to consider yourself as an individual, and also as a member of the larger groups to which you belong. These include family and social groups, as well as the racial links we all have. It is on the spiritual level that our sense of personal identity, of being one, becomes overshadowed by these greater links. You must realise that, just as these unseen historical influences determine how you develop as an individual, so, too, do you affect them and all who are members of your family, social group, or race, now and in the future. The way you are remembered will inevitably affect someone, somewhere, at some time. This is most obvious in the extreme cases of religious leaders, great philosophers, thinkers, or saints, whose lives are used as models. By the way they lived just one incarnation, they have affected people for generations to come. Not everyone will have such an affect on the future, but you will leave some mark that will be bigger than you were as an individual. Contemplating this may well lead to further reddening of the face, for it makes you very aware of how closely linked we all are. You have a responsibility for yourself and for others, and this responsibility can manifest in very subtle ways. The elder tree will help you sort this out into an understandable, acceptable, and workable scheme, which can be used to advance yourself and everyone else. The English-language name for this tree, elder, is very appropriate, for it is our elders who show us the way. One day you will be an elder for a generation yet to come. Spend some time with this tree and its lessons, for it is an important one.
(Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham. Steve Blamires, 1998. Llewellyn Publications, St Paul, MN)
The Elder Tree
The elder seems to love to grow wild. It is found in abundance on wasteland, in chalk-pits, woods, hedgerows and gardens. It likes chalky soils, and while it is rare in Scotland, is so common everywhere else that it is often ignored or considered a nuisance. It is anciently recorded that the trunks of elder trees grew to 6 feet (2 metres) in girth, though it is hard to visualise this when looking at our modern specimens. Today the elder is a shrub, bush or small tree which rarely exceeds 30 feet (9 metres) in height.
The elder has a peculiar method of growth. Several stems will appear at the base of a sapling, and each grows upright for a time and then droops over. The bud arising on the top of the curve created by the drooping stem will carry on growing upwards for a while, and then it droops over and growth continues from its upper-curve bud. By growing this way the elder tree is not formed in one upward growing mass, as are oak and other trees, but is rather a patchwork of the curves of many drooping shoots, which is why the tree is never elegant nor of great height.
The elder sends up shoots anywhere, and will grow in dense shade and on a minimum of soil and still produce masses of fruit. Elder grows easily from cuttings, simply by a twig being broken off the tree and stuck into the ground. The elder always has stems at its base, and it castes its boughs crazily about itself. Sheep and cows eat elder leaves but they’re not particularly liked by goats and horses. It is recorded that sheep fed on elder bark and the tree’s young shoots suffer less badly with foot-rot.
Elder bark is sandy in colour, with a surface which is rough and full of chinks. The branches are less rough and the smoother twigs are green, their surfaces marked with spots or brownish warts caused by the tree’s lenticels, the pores through which it breathes. The wood of the main stem is heavy and hard, but elder twigs have merely an outer ring of wood, and are full of white pith. This can be easily taken out, as many a child has discovered.
Elder leaves consist of five leaflets attached to a centre stalk and they are set opposite each other on the twig or branch. Because elder-buds are not protected by a weather-proof bud case, the elder produces another, smaller bud in reserve beneath each main bud. These second buds only open if the main buds don’t, or if they are destroyed, and they can remain dormant on the tree for a couple of years until needed. In this way the wise elder ensures no loss of leaves if the seasonal climate suddenly changes.
Not long after the appearance of the elder’s leaves its flower-buds form. By June they have opened and the tree is laden with their flat-topped masses made up of millions of tiny creamy-white flowers. All elder flowers are alike, with five cream petals which have five green sepals behind them which look like stars on the back of each tiny flower. In between the petals are five yellow stamens and in the centre there is a cream-coloured ovary with a three-lobed stigma. The stamens and stigmas mature at the same time, allowing cross-fertilization to occur easily as insects (especially flies) are attracted by the fragrance of the flowers.
Elder flower clusters are built up from five very slim ‘branches’ arising from the end of the main stalk. Each branch then divides into five ‘branchlets’, and may branch again before reaching the flowers. Elder flowers are all at the same level, facing the sky. Seen from underneath they resemble small many-spoked umbrellas.
By late summer the fertilized ovaries of the flowers have developed into berries. These berries are green and hard at first, but as summer moves towards autumn they ripen, turning into juice-filled, deep purply-black fruit, hanging in heavy bunches called drupes. Birds love elderberries and will swoop en masse to strip a tree, often precipitating human needs. However, this is necessary for the trees, for having eaten the berries, the birds void their seeds unharmed upon their flights, thus ensuring widespread propagation.
Custom & Legend
The unique personality of the elder was anciently believed to come from the spirit of the ‘Elder Mother’ who dwelt within the tree. The Elder Mother, called Elle or Hyldemoer in Scandinavian and Danish myth, worked strong earth magic and according to legend avenged all who harmed her host trees. No forester of old would touch elder, let alone cut it, before asking the Elder Mother’s permission three times over and even then he was still in dread of her possible wrath. Likewise, in many country districts of Europe and Britain, wise people still show respect by touching their hats when passing elder trees, in continuance of ancient custom. Certain North American tribes also believe that elder is the Mother of the human race.
According to legend witches would often turn themselves into elder trees, and one famous witch-tree turned a king and his men to stone, thereby creating the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. This ancient piece of folklore tells of a Danish king, on his way to battle for the English Crown with his warriors, meeting the witch and asking her what his fate would be. The witch replied:
Seven long strides thou shalst take,
And if Long Compton thou canst see
King of England thou shalst be.
Because he was almost at the crest of a hill the Dane was confident as he strode forth, but unexpectedly at his seventh stride a long mound rose up before him, blocking his view. The old witch continued:
As Long Compton thou canst not see,
King of England thou shalst not be.
Rise up stick, and stand still stone,
For King of England thou shalst be none,
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be,
And I myself an elder tree.
In an instant the Danish king and his men were turned to stone. Those warriors loyal to the king became the King’s Men stones set in a circle; and those who had questioned his authority turned into the Whispering Knights, huddled together and apart from the others. The king himself became the King Stone, standing, still in shocked attitude, apart from all his men. The witch then resumed her guise as the guardian elder tree.
Many local customs and traditions arose from this legend. It is said that in ancient days on Midsummer’s Eve people sought the elder witch-tree, dancing with elder garlands in their hair. Whereupon at midnight the King Stone acknowledged the proceedings and turned his head to watch the dancing. Unfortunately many of the customs associated with this legend were changed when religious laws forbidding paganism were enforced and we find that the majority of them showed condemnation for the pagan witch-elder tree rather than for the invading foreign king. Thus arose the custom of feasting around the King Stone on Midsummer’s Night and of cutting the elder tree to ‘bleed’ the witch, when it is said the King Stone would nod his approval. Local superstition said that if you found the witch-elder and broke off a branch, you would have the chance to discover the witch’s disguise. An added incentive to the witch-hunt was that if when you broke the branch it turned red and ‘bled’, you would be granted an extra boon.
However the Rollright Stones are also associated with powerful healing and divinatory qualities. The King’s Men form a circle and prayers for the sick were reckoned more effective if offered up in the centre of it. It was also believed that barren women would be made fertile if they went to these stones at midnight and pressed their bare breasts against them. On certain nights of the year the King’s Men are still believed to change into human form, in order to go dancing down to a nearby spring to quench their huge thirsts.
The King’s Men have always seemed impossible to count, for each time you try a different total is reached, almost as if the stones move as you walk round the circle. This may be due to the effects of the energy of the place, or even to the legendary witch’s spell! However there are known to be around 77 stones and according to custom, if anyone does get the same total three times, they will have great wishes fulfilled.
Since ancient days the Whispering Knights have been renowned for their ability to foretell the future, their secrets heard as the wind whispers through them. Thus, at midnight on Beltaine eve, local girls visited the knights so the stones could whisper the names of their future loves and husbands into their ears.
According to folklore, if ever Britain is in dire need the entire Rollright army will awaken into human form. Perhaps, as this army originally came to invade, this may refer to an escape clause set down in the witch’s spell: that the king and his men could awaken, but only if they showed in their hearts they would truly aid the English.
The above legend illustrates the ancient associations between the elder and witches, and, as already stated, all witches were believed to be able to transform into elder trees. Folklore extensively embroidered this theme and it became the belief of the superstitious that if a transformed witch-elder were cut, the witch would return to human shape still bearing the marks and so could be recognised. Similarly, breaking a branch off a tree could be recognised in the human as a limp, or as cramps, etc. The paranoia arising from such tales is well illustrated by an old story from Northamptonshire, which tells of a man who cut an elder stick as a toy for his child, only to see blood flow from the tree. Later he met a local woman with her arm bound up and such was the hysteria of the times that the woman was ducked as a witch for the alleged offence.
In reality the elder provides excellent healing. Yet as paganism was being crushed by a Church no doubt eager for its priests to replace healers, this was denied. People were told that the only proper use for elder was to seek out the evil of witches. To do this a baptised person was to dab the green juice from elder onto his eyelids, which would enable him to recognise and see all the doings of witches in the community. This fallacy effectively boosted persecution. All healers, let alone unpopular women, took great risks to be able to perform their arts with elder, for they were ever open to the jealousies of others and the threat of diabolically rigged witch-trials.
In the legends of the Church elder was said to be the wood of the cross, even though the tree’s peculiar growing habit denies it could be cut into straight, strong lengths of wood. Elder was also said to be the tree upon which Judas hanged himself after betraying Christ. Thus elder was deemed to be an invitation to the devil himself, bringing death to one of the family if it were brought into the home. This is a relic from the days when all things female were called ‘devilish’ by the Church and is in direct contradiction to the special qualities of the tree. Through these edicts of the Church elder became known as a tree of mixed powers, of good and of evil. A tree therefore not to approach!
In later years Saxon kings forbade ‘vain practices’ (ie. divination) carried out with elder sticks and yet twigs of elder grown on consecrated ground were considered a counteracting charm, especially when tied into the form of a cross. Because of all the superstition attached to it, elder wood was never used for furniture, especially not for things that children used, in case the child grew sickly. It was also never used to beat boys or animals in case it stunted their growth.
Throughout the ages tales have surfaced about houses hemmed in by elder trees. The inhabitants of these houses died in rapid succession, and the places were only rendered healthy again when the trees were thinned. Yet conversely it was customary to place elder branches around the doors and windows of a house to protect the inhabitants from mischief.
Cornish folklore of 1816 tells of a farmer from Lostwithiel who used elder for similar protection. Every morning he noticed how one of his ponies was tired and travel-stained, and he suspected that it was being ‘hag-ridden’ at night. So he kept watch and saw five small men fighting in a nearby meadow. Eventually the victor of the fight jumped onto the pony and galloped it into a state of exhaustion. After this the farmer pinned his stable door shut with green elder twigs and his pony was troubled no more.
Country folklore also states that those who sleep under an elder tree will never awaken, for the fragrance of the flowers will transport them to the Underworld. In reality the white pith inside the branches of elder contains a mild sleep-inducing drug, so this is probably responsible rather than the smell of the flowers. It is also possibly derivative of an old legend, which says that if you stand beneath an elder tree on Midsummer’s Night and breathe in its fragrance, you will see the king of the faeries and his entourage. If you do not carry the necessary things to protect you from bewitchment, especially an implement of iron, you may disappear into the realms of faerie, perhaps never to return …
There are many superstitions about burning elder wood, especially on indoor fires, for it is thought that the Elder Mother within the tree will take great revenge for such an act, sending plagues of bad luck. Gypsies avoid burning any part of the tree.
The elder tree has been given this false reputation of shade and death, yet to our ancient ancestors it was a tree of great medicinal value. A elder in bloom was said to denote the true arrival of summer, which ended when its berries became fully ripe. Because the elder rejuvenates itself from shoots growing vigorously from its base, it also came to symbolise life itself by appearing virtually immortal.
The Anglo-Saxons named elder ellaern, meaning ‘hollow tree’. It was also called aeld, meaning ‘fire’, a name no doubt connected to the use of hollow sticks of elder for blowing life into a fire like bellows. Elder’s other folk-names include ‘Lady Ellhorn’, ‘Old Lady’, ‘Old Sal’ and ‘the pipe tree’ or ‘bole tree’.
Elder was used medicinally by the ancient Britons, Celts and Romans, for it was thought that the Elder Mother within the tree could cure ‘all the ills of mankind’. Elder was known as the tree of regeneration, for it regrew damaged branches and rooted from any part of itself. Thus it illustrated the regenerative power of life.
Virtually every ailment of the body is cured by some part of the elder. Village doctors and herbalists throughout time have put their faith in the medicinal qualities of its roots, leaves, flowers, bark, fruit and spirit. The fevers and colds of winter months are appeased by elder’s immense healing abilities, which is why it is most powerful from the autumn on, when its rich harvest of fruit provides strength for survival through the dark times of the year.
An elder twig carried in the pocket is a charm against saddle-soreness for horse-riders and elder attached to the harness will protect the horse in hot weather. A farm with elder trees growing on it is blessed, for they protect the livestock from lightning and promote their fertility. Elder twigs were tied into crosses with red yarn, and were hung over the doors of barns, stables and homes for protection.
Toothache, however bad, supposedly disappeared completely if you held an elder twig in your mouth and said, ‘Depart, thou evil spirit!’ Lame pigs were reckoned to be cured by an elder peg being put through their ears.
Warts slowly disappear when rubbed with a green elder stick which is then buried in the ground to rot. It is recorded that at Waddeston, Buckinghamshire, earlier this century, a young girl was seriously affected by warts on her hands. A neighbour secretly counted them, and without telling the girl, cut as many notches on an elder stick as there were warts and then buried the stick in the garden. As the stick decayed we are told the warts disappeared and the cure was complete.
Fevers were also cured by the ‘rub with a stick and bury’ method, but there is a caution attached to this, for whoever digs the stick up will receive the fever!
In Ireland necklaces were made of nine sprigs of green elderberries (or a twig cut into nine pieces) and were worn by those needing a cure for epilepsy. Such necklaces were also worn by infants as an amulet during teething and elder was used in the blessing of babies.
As an alternative to aspirin, mix equal parts of lime flowers, chamomile and elder flowers, infuse them in a cup for 5 minutes and then drink. If legend be true, this mixture also helps you keep your youth.
Ruling planet: Venus
Abilities: Regeneration, Cauldron of Rebirth. To do with the element of Earth.
Seasons: Summer (early), Autumn (late)
Elder is a tree of country lanes and cottage gardens, and the Elder Mother protected such domains with her strong earth-energy. Elder is potent and there are warnings attached to its magical usage. It is always wise to ask permission of the Elder Mother before cutting or taking a piece of a tree, for she may follow and plague you, as she does those who use her with selfish intent.
Elder was used as the wood of the pyre in cremations, and was also placed in the ground and the coffin at burials. It was anciently believed that wherever elder grew or rested was a sacred place, free from being despoiled.
In Ireland elder was used for handles in witches’ broomsticks, and wreaths of elder twigs were woven as crowns and worn by witches at Samhain, to enhance their communications with the Otherworld and increase their ability to see the departed.
To bless things, places or people, the leaves and berries of elder can be scattered to the four winds (east, south, west, north), preferably from the top of a high hill. Visualise and name whatever is to be blessed, then throw the leaves and berries (with as much ritual as you feel is needed) unto the directions, asking for blessing as you continue to visualise strongly. If possible, also scatter leaves and berries onto or around that which is blessed. This procedure can also be used to protect yourself from spells cast against you, by visualising guardians or shields of protection at the four quarters (or directions) around you. In this instance elderberries especially protect against negativity and evil.
Pungent elder blossoms were traditionally used at weddings to bring good luck to the married pair. It was anciently believed that if a person was tempted to commit adultery they could carry an elder leaf to help them overcome temptation. Elder blossoms were used to bring good fortune to an unborn child, and in order to ensure a protected birth for both child and mother, pregnant women traditionally kissed an elder tree.
The elder is a feminine tree given generous qualities by its ruler Venus. It is used for protection, healing, exorcism and prosperity.
To sensitive people the elder is imbued with ‘witchy’ qualities and powers which deserve respect, for they are special. All growth of the elder tree was once considered sacred, for, like the Earth Mother herself, elder has been here since the beginning. It is an integral part of our flora and country magic, and, as we have seen, because of the great healing and support it has always given people, it has long been called the queen of herbs.
Ancient is elder’s connection to humans. More ancient still is its connection with the earth upon which we live, which it protects and fulfils. Old and bent the elder may be, but its strength is formidable, reaching deep into the primeval and containing the stored wisdom of the ages.
The elder is most powerful when the old Celtic year ends and the new one begins at Samhain. It does not merely lead us to that point, but also conducts us through into the new year, providing many medicines and foods by which to survive the dark season of winter, until the sun again provides its warmth. This ability of the elder, to guide us through the darkness by making our days creative, may be the ancient reasoning behind the use of elder-shaped leaves in megalithic long-barrow burial mounds, to give the spirits of the departed the chance to remain creative for their new life to come, and also, because of the elder’s great healing capacity, the chance to be born healthily into their new existence.
When the elder has been stripped of its fruit and its leaves begin to scatter to wintry winds, so its wizened character is displayed as its crazily-angled limbs are revealed. Then we see how aged is the species and our memories are stirred by by-gone days and the wild unkempt face of Nature, where man had little effective control. For of all our indigenous shrubs and trees, the elder most strongly retains the right to ‘go its own way’.
The atmosphere around an elder seems to be ‘held’ by the tree, and as you move into it, it often seems as if you are entering a bubble, the surface of which can be receptive or repelling. At times you may slip through, almost as if you were awaited. At other times it feels as if a sort of password were needed to gain entrance into the elder’s realm. Then, as you move around the plant, it is as though you are being examined by the tree’s energy to see if you are suitable for admission. It is wise to check you intent before moving closer, for the legends of the Elder Mother cannot be ignored.
And yet because of such tangible precautions maintained by the tree, when it does accept you it bestows an honour upon you, and a responsibility, for the ancient wisdoms now await, the treasures of which will guide humanity into a better way of life. Such treasures cannot be wasted. Hence the elder’s caution.
I call upon the Crone, Old Wisewoman, she who brings true vision. She is wise in the ways of all creatures and knows roots, herbs, all healing potions, whatever may be needed. She sees patterns and dreams in the glowing logs, in steam that rises from the Cauldron, and in quiet waters. She can foretell, forewarn and guide. In her, we see and understand, we bring the story to its rightful end, and we gain wisdom.
The above words of Rae Beth, taken from her book Hedgewitch, express the goddess of the waning moon and the waning year, when winter descends and long nights are spent around log fires. They also express the essence of the elder tree, the Wise Old Woman of the Hedgerows.
Elder in hedgerows or copses was believed to be a beneficial protection for livestock. Elder leaves were also valued by farmers for ridding granaries of mice and rats, for the smell of the leaves repelled such costly vermin. Bruised elder leaves also keep flies at bay and carters place them at the back of the cart to keep flies off the horses. The drivers of hearses used elder leaves to keep the spirits of the dead at bay, as well as flies. Grown by the kitchen window, elder attracts flies away from the kitchen, and elder leaves, made into an infusion, can be dabbed on the skin to keep midges and mosquitoes at bay when out in the country. A bruised leaf rubbed on the skin or worn in a hat will do likewise.
(Tree Wisdom. Jacqueline Memory Paterson, 1996. Thorsons, London, San Francisco.)