The Elder tree is one of magic and enchantment, but also holds deep medicine for those brave enough to approach and ask....
Elder tree identificaiton:
Plate of Elder Flower from Flora Homoeopathic illustrations by Edward Hamilton, 1852, v1 plate LIV.
And now dear ones, we enter a most magical part of the woods, for before us we come tothe wise and powerful Elder tree.It all ways this tree epitomizes her name. For in my mind, elder’s are teachers, guides, healers and wisdom keepers. If you look at an Elder tree, the bark is coursed with creases, rough and craggy like the skin of a person who has lived many lives. The branches are often bushy and overlap each other in a tangle that is both wild and bountiful.The leaves usually have about 5-7 leaflets on a stem with a single one on the end. They are elliptical and dark glossy green with a jagged edge and pointed tip.The flowers are pale creamy white, sometimes very light yellowy-cream and are wide umbrellas. The European black elder, Sambuca nigra has a potent , heady fragrance . The North American blue elder, a sub species of the black elder has the similar appearance but the flowers do not smell as strong and the dark purple berries have a chalky appearance.The berries usually ripe between August-October depending on your area, are irritating to the digestive system if eaten raw but are wonderful medicine when cooked.
The Elder has a zest for life that transcends location, growing in urban edges, cinrete walls and forgotten buildings crumbling in the dust of the past.It also grows well in churchyards, often planted to portect the dead or a sign that the dead are resting peacefully. It is also found along roadsides, and riverbeds and even scrub lands of borders and those liminal spaces where such magic trees tend to grow.
Elder has many renowned medicinal properties. In writings dating back to Pliny the Elder, Paracelsus and many a hedge witch's & medicine woman’s grimoire. Not only is a tried and tested fever reducer, it is extremely effective against several strains of flu. Elderberry also tops blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, and blackberries in terms of total flavonol content. And the delicate aromatic flowers can also helps lower blood sugar so may be beneficial for diabetics.
Check out this beautiful video from the Woodland Trustof a time lapsed elder through all the season’s of the year.
A year in the life of an elder tree:
Folklore and Magic of the Elder:
There is much folklore attributed to the Elder tree. In Old Europe, the elder is intimately twinned with tales of fairies and witches. Depending on where you are – some folk know there is an old witch who lives in the elder tree and others see her as a nymph or fairy. In parts of England and Scandinavia this tree spirit is called the Elder Mother. It is known that you should barter with her offerings in exchange for elder wood, flowers or berries. Either way there is an ancient being alive and well in the Elder tree and it is wise to approach with reverence. Always ask the tree’s permission before taking any part whether berry, flower or wood. Leave offerings and tell the wise spirit what you intend to do with this medicine. “There are very strong superstitions about not cutting down the Elder. Maybe a fear of releasing that malevolent spirit or maybe born of a deep respect for this tree, which gives so much by way of medicines, food and drink. Early European folk tales tell of a dryad, Hylde-moer, the Elder Tree Mother, who lives in the Elder tree and watches over it. Should the tree be chopped down and furniture made of the wood, Hylde-moer would follow her property and haunt the owners. Similar tales tell that if a child's cradle were to be made of Elder, Hylde-moer would pinch the child black and blue and give it no peace or rest. Thus it is considered unlucky to make a cradle out of Elder wood - Birch being the proper wood for a cradle, signifying a new start or inception.” Glennie Kindred
Her magical properties include transformation, renewal and regeneration. This may because the energy of the tree is such that she regrows easily from all parts. She has a wise old woman, Crone energy and guards the entrance to the underworld, the threshold of consciousness and the dark inner mysteries.
There is lots of lore about Elder trees in the British & Irish Isles. If the eyes are bathed in the green juice of the wood, you might see fairies and witches. If you stand under an elder-tree at Samhain in Scotland, you can see the faery host riding by. Elderberries plucked on Midsummer’s Eve confer magic powers. In the Isle of Man, elders are the main dwelling-place for elves.
Beyond the wild spirit of the tree, elder can be used for many ritual practices including for protection work- as in amulets or spreading leaves and berries around the outside of a house. People and places can be blessed with leaves and berries. A popular talisman was a bouquet of dried leaves and branches dried and hung outside the door of a home. It was considered specially good protection if the elder grew near the home, along a hedge on eth property or by the front gate. Since Elder is a tree of transformation and the underworld it is known to be used drive away evil as much as it was used by those who were considered dangerous such a witches and fairies. At one time the bark itself was brewed in wine to make a ritual potion which induced hallucinations, divination and prophecy. Nowadays the bark is considered toxic and not used in preparations of any kind.
In my personal practice I use elder in work with transitions, the underworld and moving through different stages of consciousness and spiritual realms. I have found it to be wonderful for blessings. A divine feminine herb and ruled by the Moon, Saturn and the Water element.
Jessica shares the Black Elder:
Magic Making with Elder:
Ritual Inks with Elder Elderberries also make a lovely ink for writing, art or ritual practices like spell work or book of shadow notes. The process is pretty straight forward but the ink can fade with long exposure to light so make sure to store in a dark bottle. You can follow the guidance of the moon and make this ink at different moon phases and add different flower or gem essences to influence the vibration of the ink. The elderberry lends itself well to protection and transformation works.
To make: Heat the berries in a pan over medium heat. Add the vinegar and begin mashing with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes.
Take off the heat and strain well either in a very fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. You might want to do this a couple times to remove as much of the plant solids as possible.
Once your are finished straining mix in the gum Arabic and any essences you are using, then transfer to your bottle.
Hedgecrossing with Elder:
Elder is a tree that is best worked with during the spring and fall months, as it's at it's strongest during these seasons busily producing flowers and berries and most connected to the realms of the fae. Offerings of pruning and service are always nice, and it is nice to hedgewalk at a different time when you might be harvesting and asking for flowers or berries. I like to bring cornmeal and roses and things like milk and honey, as I am aware that any offering tot he elder are also offerings to the fae.
Good questions to take to the elder are around protection and transformation. Of you are in a deep process and wish for extra help during a vulnerable time, the elder is sure to come in and offer extra support, as it is able to be both tender and fierce at once, showing us in turn how to do the same.
Working with the Elder/Ruis Ogam: If you draw this ogam it could mean that there is something in your life right now that you are feeling regretful over or wish you could change. It could be a moment of saying the wrong thing or making a bad choice, but now you wish to make reparations, drawing this card suggests that you do it, now is the time. Elder is a tree of healing as both its berries and bark are used in many different healing remedies and so it makes sense that drawing this card owuld be asking you to set healing into motion. Drawing this card in reverse suggests that perhaps someone else has harmed you and now is perhaps the time for you to heal and forgive both yourself and the person who harmed you. Forgiveness does not mean that we are accepting what they did was right, only that we let go of the hold that our anger about it has on us.
Elder Flower Cordial Elder flowers have a delightful and intoxicating aroma of spiced citrusy nectar which unique and difficult to put into words. It is essential to pick flowers in the morning, when they smell sweet, if they are picked in the afternoon there will have a more sour fragrance. What you need: 12 elderflower heads ½ lb. bag of organic fine sugar 1 TBSP. of apple cider vinegar 10 pints of cold pure water 3 Meyer lemons zested & juiced 3 drops of Labradorite or Spring Blossom flower essence
How To Make + Use It: Pick the elderflowers and give them a little shake to remove insects. Remove the flowers from the green stocks. Use the back of a fork to push the tiny flowers off the stalk. It works great! In a large bucket, nestle the flowers in the water with the sugar, vinegar, juice and zest from the lemons. Mix well, cover and stand for 72 hours. Strain the flowers out and gift them to the compost fairies with your thanks. Place the liquid in a pan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium and continue to reduce down the liquid by half. Once reduced allow to cool completely. Store in bottle in the refrigerator. To use this mix, pour 3-5 Tablespoons into a glass and top with chilled sparkling water. Garnish with fresh elderflowers and lemon.
Recipe for Elderflower Champagne What you need: 10 elderflower heads - (if you pick flowers in the morning they should smell slightly of bananas, if picked in the afternoon/evening there will be an aroma of cats wee! Both work, but bananas are best clearly) 1lb bag of caster sugar 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar 10 pints of cold water 1 1/2 large lemons zested & juiced 3 drops of flower essence of your choice to raise the vibration- I like the idea of rose or Jasmine
Method Pick the elderflowers when fully out and shake to remove insects. Place the flowers in a cloth bag or just strain at the end, but do remove the flowers from the green stocks. A fork works great for this. Seal the cloth bag or just pop the flowers into the water with the sugar, vinegar, juice and zest from the lemons. (Use plastic buckets) Mix well, cover and stand for 72 hours. Remove bag of flowers & strain into bottles (use screw top bottles, a plastic soda bottle works well) and leave in cool larder for 2 weeks, releasing the fizz every couple of days or the bottles will burst. Please trust me on this one its no fun cleaning up sticky messes!!! Serve very chilled. The longer you leave this the more alcoholic it becomes. I have added rosemary to this recipe in the past and its very nice—feel free to be creative with this and have some fun! To make cordial use some or all of the mixture before bottling and add an equal amount of sugar, boil till reduced by half.
Elderberry syrup making by Terra Soul Herbals
Elderberry & Rosehip Syrup Elderberries have very potent immune boosting qualities. They are anti-inflammatory, diuretic and helps to lower blood sugar.
Elderberries contain organic pigments, tannin, amino acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, sugar, rutin, viburnic acid, vitamin A and B and a large amount of vitamin C. Flavonoids, including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic actions of the elderberry flowers and berries. What you need: 2 sterile 16 oz. jars or bottles Strainer or sieve Cheesecloth 8 oz. fresh rose hips (Rosa canina) or 4 oz. dried rosehips 8 oz. Fresh elderberries (Sambucus nigra or Sambucus nigra cerulea) or 4 oz. dried elderberries 2 quarts pure water 13 oz. organic sugar (can also use coconut sugar or maple syrup) 5 clove buds 1 cinnamon stick
How to make + use: If using fresh rose hips, clean and remove the stalks and chop. Using a food processor is easiest. If using fresh elderberries, remove berries from the stems with a fork and mash a little. Bring to boil 1.5 quarts of water in large pot. Add berries, cloves and cinnamon stick and bring back to boil. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 20 mins. Pour into a sieve lined with cheesecloth placed over a bowl and allow to drip through. Add fruit pulp back to pan with the remaining water and bring back to a boil. Turn off heat and let steep for 20 mins. once more. Drain through the cheesecloth lined sieve as before. In a pan, mix together strained juice and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes until the sugar is dissolved and the consistency is syrupy. Pour syrup into jars or bottles while hot and seal, following manufacturers directions for your containers.
NOTE: When we make a cup of this, we put 2-3 tablespoons of syrup in a mug with 3-4 cloves and a squeeze of lemon juice then top with hot water and enjoy.
A fab video on the wonderful Elder...
These videos was made by my friend Yarrow and his wife Angela Willard the owners of Harmonic Arts, a wonderful herbal company whose medicines I rely on year round, partly because they are so effective, organic and because Yarrow and Angela really know how to make tasty herbal medicine!
Elder She of twisted branch And crone-weathered bark Holding secrets in her furrows like the promise of sweet youth Or the forgotten road to the fairies. Teacher and priestess in all the seasons offering the bloom of the maiden and intoxicating with Midsummer’s light. Beckoning with lush, ripe berries in the late dying summer and offering deep dark medicine to cure the ills of the coldest seasons in your body and soul.
Burne, Charlotte Sophia (2003) Handbook of Folklore, Kessinger Publishing
The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines by Matthew Wood
Elder in Profile by Kat Morgenstern online at http://www.sacredearth.com/ethnobotany/plantprofiles/elder.php
California Indians and Their Environment by Kent Lightfoot and Otis Parrish
The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines European Cytokine Network. Volume 12, Number 2, 290-6, June 2001, Recherches
Elderberry, University of Maryland Medical Center online at http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/elderberry