The folklore and magic that surrounds this majestic and powerful plant goes back to Europe which is where we get most of the bulk of our lore surrounding this mysterious tree.The word ‘Elder’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld, which meant “fire”.The hollow stem after the pith was removed, as a pipe for smoking or to start fires; also known as pipe tree.
Tales of magic that springs up whenever Elder is present from Jesus and the cross to the fae and the Underworld.The hollow tube has always been associated with journey medicine and a way to the underworld. Folklore paints this tree as a gateway to the other worlds, to what some magical practitioners call “non-ordinary-reality”.
This is the land of the fairies full of magic, mystery, and wonder. For those who are familiar with the modern day tale of “Harry Potter” the elder wand is of the most powerful wands. When Elder presents herself to you this is a doorway to the mysteries she wants to share with you for you to unlock within yourself.
Elder Provides protection from stormy weather to small creatures and tender plants. It is a striking hedgerow symbolizing the boundary between the mundane world and the “Other-world”.In Denmark, it was thought that Hylde-Moer, the Elder Mother, dwelt in the leaves,like the Crone “Granny” who’s spirit lives in the tree, guarding the portal between the living and the dead.
She appears in the frothy white blossoms of summer and the dark berries of fall.Hanging Elder above the door creates a boundary between your mundane world and an entrance into your sacred space.Craft a wand from her branches let the process of doing so spark a creative flame within to transform you and be a symbol of your ability to create and transform the mundane into magic.
Tune in and listen to the wisdom of the Elder (as she is your elder, ancestral wisdom) and listen to your own curiosity to guide you down the path of mystery and magic. She wants to share with you to listen also to your own intuition down the path of mystery and allow the voices of synchronicity to guide you to where you need to go. And yet a word of caution: Do not allow yourself to be overtaken by the myths and stories, archetypes, and characters you encounter.
Elder is a wise teacher who demands respect, you must first ask to take from her before cutting or harvesting from her “Old girl give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when I grow into a tree,” was a Scandinavian woodsman plea. Also in folklore of people falling asleep under her and taking a journey into another world can be dangerous for the uninitiated.Another Danish tradition was that if you stood under the elder on Midsummer Night’s Eve, you would see the Fairy King and all his entourage.
Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tale of “The Marsh King '' in this story a human woman stumbles into another world through an elder tree and encounters a supernatural being called “The Marsh King''.He holds her captive and she becomes an unwilling wife. When you blindly seek out and worship archetypes, you run the risk of losing yourself.
Elder grants us the ability to both avidly study ancient wisdom, and make up our own mind about what we discover. Also she reminds us not to idealize our teachers, no matter how wise or mystical they may be.
Medicine and Poison
Most Popularly the berries are the most commonly used part of the plant for healing colds/flu. It is lesser known that nearly all parts of the plant can be worked with for varying purposes. Elder can calm the nerves (nervous system), increase circulation, and improve digestion, to name a few key medicinal virtues. Elderberries help move stagnant blood (life-force) and fluids (lives in bodies of stagnant water such as swampy marshes).
The flowers are a gentle sedative and relax the nervous system as their scent is slightly narcotic, calming the nervous system allows one to enter into a meditative state of consciousness without fear, or harm.There is toxicity associated with this magical medicine, when prepared properly is safe. The presence of cyanide (cyanogenic glycoside), creates more nausea and purgative effects than fatalities, although they have occurred.
A Finnish herbalist Hernriette Kress:“ Cyanoglycocides are found in most if not all rose family plants, and the taste behind the bitter almonds and amaretto. There is not that much in elder: the irritation of elder is more due to the resin than the sambunigrin. To make medicine with elder you might want to cook (or tincture) fresh and dried elderberries before consuming them; the seeds contain the plant's potential toxicity.
Elder prefers moist (swampy), low lying places and spreads through root suckers and or seeds from bird droppings, with creamy white flower umbels up to nine inches across. In late summer, these flowers become draping clusters of deep purple/black berries. There are many species of elder worldwide but only a few native species in North America Black Elderberry, Sambucus nigra, is the European variety that is subject of much of the lore and medicine.
North American species, Sambucus canadensis is the preferred and similar to S.nigra. On the West Coast, from Oregon south to Baja, blue elderberry or Tapiro. The common red elderberry (S.racemosa) is said to be best left for the wildlife as a major food source. Canada's first people were known to boil the berries overnight and make the preserves into cakes, and to this day the Alaskan herbalist enjoys red elder medicine.
The proanthocyanins found in elder are some of the highest rated antioxidants. Due to the nutrient rich, cooling properties of these bioflavonoids. The berries have the most effect when taken right at the onset of a flu and continue through the course of the illness.
A virus is a masterful creature with a simple structure, which makes it adaptable but also unable to replicate on its own. Viruses are equipped with an enzyme that destroys the membrane of the cells and takes over the cells genetic material. Then replicates X thousands and does the same to other cells.
Elder works by preventing the virus from entering the cell membranes, which is why early and frequent doses are the best way to shorten the duration of illness. According to Paul Bergner:”Viruses have the ability to alter their genetics and create new strains.This makes a problem for creating vaccines against viral diseases, such as flu or AIDS, because the vaccine can only be developed against known strains.
Elder may thus be able to literally save lives, because most strains of the virus use the same enzyme to penetrate the cells thus limiting the chance of replication and new strains.Elderberry upregulates chemicals called cytokines, whose role is to signal molecules to participate in the healthy immune response. With 2020’s COVID-19 outbreak that elderberry was causing cytokine storms in late stages of the disease.
This was purely speculation, based on older studies, and there are no studies reporting an increased risk of ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) due to elderberry. In fact, elderberry was attributed to a shortening duration of COVID-19 infection.The flowers taste sweet,yet with a bit of acrid (relaxing) in the background.
It is immediately warming but ever so gently. It then literally moves from center outward, The subtle warming of the body and sharpening of the mind brings clarity to cognition because it softly relaxes the system. Our senses come alive with greater precision when we are relaxed and alert.
Eyes: Cool Elder flower tea is soothing for inflamed eyes.
Skin: Helpful for internally and externally for eruptive skin diseases such as measles and chickenpox
Fevers: Taken hot,elder flowers are a diaphoretic.
Respiratory System: A hot infusion of flowers for asthma , bronchitis, and irritated coughs.
General Health: The berries are nutritive and are used for blood building.
Mouth/Throat: Prepare a mouthwash/gargle for ulcers,sore throats, and tonsillitis
Immune System: Flowers and berries resolve damp heat and helpful for colds.flu, and ear infections
Endocrine System: The infusion is an underutilized alterative or blood cleanser. Great with diabetes because it is a gentle blood sugar stabilizer and enhances metabolic functions that rid the body of wastes.
Kidneys: As a cool infusion, the flowers enhance the kidney's ability to act as a decongestant, relieving excess fluid from the body and eliminating toxins built up.
Nervous System: Elder flowers as a relaxant for allaying anxiety, lifting spirits, and promoting restful sleep, Specific for restless children at the onset of an infection (paired with chamomile)
Infusions: Warm elder flower infusion and or berries
Tincture: Fresh flower (1:2,75% alcohol) or dried flowers(1,5,50% alcohol). ½ to 1 teaspoon 3X a day for acute flu and colds
Syrups: Honey and berries with any other herbs that pair well with it such as ginger and cinnamon.
Washes: with flowers with a strong infusion and apply to area
The bark and leaves are a laxative and can be toxic. It is important to remove stems and leaves when preparing the berries.