Category Archives: Trees & Herbs

The Elder

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Sambucus nigra, Adoxaceae, Elder, Elderberry, ...

The Queen of Herbs

“Elder” is an Anglo-Saxon word (aeld) and means “Fire” because its hollow twigs would blow sparks into the flame.  Rarely is the elder wood burned, there are many superstitions such as bringing death to the family.  The Elder is assigned to the 13th consonant of the Ogham Alphabet, the Ruis and the 13th  month in the Celtic Tree Calendar, which reigns from November 25th until Winter Solstice on December 21st.

The Elder is more of a bush than a tree, although it can grow up to 30 feet tall.  In June the bush is covered in creamy, flat-topped sprays, each containing hundreds of delicate five-petalled flowers.  The delicious aroma  reminds one of Muscat grapes.  In the folklore it is said, that the fragrance of the elder flowers can transport you into the realms of the fairies.  The flowers turn into small green berries and then ripen into a purplish-black color.  The tiny fruit, plum with juice hang in dense bunches called drupes.

The ripe drupes can be harvested, but it is not advised to eat them raw.  Boiled into a nutritious syrup it is wonderful to fight off cold,  flu  and soothes sore throats.  Great support of the immune system.  Made into a wine it is also very tasty and homemade elder berries jam is delicious for crepes.  A standard infusion of elder flowers is a great skin toner and it can be added to face creams or masks.

The Celts used it to make hair dye.  The roots and leaves are still used today to dye wool black.  Mixed with alum, the leaves dye green and the berries dye in various shades of blue, purple and violet.  Crushed elder leaves make a practical and chemical free insect deterrent and an infused of the same sprayed about he house will keep insect away.

The Elder is the most often used to undo spells of evil intent, although the Elder is also mostly connected to Witches.  The Elder Mother is believed to dwell in the tree.  She works a strong earth magic and punishes those who use the Elder selfishly.  The Elder is under the protection of the goddess of the waning moon and the waning year, the Queen of the Dead, also known as the Old Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess.  All throughout Europe the Elder is associated with death and regeneration, with magic.  The Triple Goddess, who as mentioned lives within the Elder, is known in the northern countries in Europe as Elle or Hyldemoer, and in Germany she is called “Frau Holle” from the german word “Hollunder” meaning Elder.  It was considered bad luck to have a crib made of Elder wood for the newborn within one’s family, however, ancient traditions does call for a coffin made of Elder for the dearly departed.

European farmers appreciate Elder bushes on their land still today, it is honored and respected, although having it grow too close to the house makes them feel uncomfortable.

Again, caution leaves and bark should not be used for self medication and the fresh root from the American Elder is poisonous and not be used at all!