Slow and patient

More of a bush than a tree, elder has sharply toothed spear-shaped leaves, generally paired in five to seven leaves on each twig. The twig itself contains a soft, white milky pith, and the leaves often have a rather acrid smell. This odour reflects the particular gift of the elder, which is to transform the organic substances it grows in and rebalance the soil.

 

Slow and patient

Typically it is found with nettles on old dumps, where the soil is full of nitrogen. The elder roots spread out initially from a gnarled centre, checking for nutrients and, when found, grow downwards. New shoots can appear from any part of its trunk at any time. Elder grows equally well in banks and hedges (where it is excellent for layering), by rivers or in open woodland.

 

Slow and patient

Large rings of strongly scented, bisexual flowers appear in June, and their creamy-white clusters change in autumn to the shiny black juicy berries that hang heavily from the tree.

 

Practical

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Both flower and berry are commonly used for many varieties of wine. However, every part of elder - bark, root and leaves - can have use and Sambucus is made from the elder, which treats infection. It can also be used to treat irrational fears, or bad dreams and psychosomatic illness. honeysuckle family: caprifoliaceae elder (sambucus nigra) . Both flowers and berries help to manage and reduce fevers and rid the body of toxins being diaphoretic, and can significantly reduce recovery times from influenza. It is also anti-viral and can heal cold sores or herpes.

Jelly soup

The 'Jelly ear' fungus can often be found on elder and, although treated as a delicacy in China, it may be best used in soups!

Mythology

Known often as the bore-tree, the elder was also called Frau Holla in stories wher, as a tree of the Great Goddess, her older names included 'holun tar' (tree of Holla), (German) and Hyllemoer (Elder Mother), (Danish). Hel or Hella in Scandinavia and Holde on the British Isles. She is the origin for the word hell and its German variant Hölle, as well as words such as holy and holding in English and Höhle (= cave) in German.

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Elder is commonly understood as guardian of house and farm and an invisible protection. To keep away illness and bad luck, elder was offered milk (Swedish), bread and beer (Prussian); and cakes and milk (Scots), and its wood was generally not cut down or burnt without good reason. 'Hats off to the Elder!' was a widespread farmer's saying in Switzerland and parts of Germany. Unfortunately, due to elder representing the thirteenth month, it is sometimes known as the 'evil elder' and associated with Judas Iscariot (who hanged himself on an elder).

Although such attribute is therefore inaccurate, because it does have association with death (being the last month of the year), the symbol of the elusive 'white hind' (which hides in a thicket of the twenty-two sacred trees) better represents the passage into the deeper mysteries (in other words of the yew's domain). Frau Holle, ancient 'crone' of the triad of the White Goddess, will know these mysteries - she was there!

asal nan craobh
ar leat ar leat
ach seall mo luchd
de mhìorbhailean

ann an callaid do thaighe
‘s tu coma co-dhiùbh
tha mi nam lighiche
tha mi nam phìobaire

ni mi cìr dha do ghruaig
ni mi gunna-séidein dhut
ni mi do dhìon, ma chreideas
tu, bho olc ’s bho éiginn

fìon mo bhlàthan
fuaran bàn dha d’ chridhe
fìon mo dhearcan
lasair ruadh dha d’eanchainn

ann an callaid do thaighe
’s tu coma co dhiùbh
asal nan craobh ’s
mo luchd de mhìorbhailean

ass among trees
you seem to say
but don’t you see my
cargo of wonders

in your garden hedge
and you seem not to care
i’m there as healer
i’m there as piper

i’ll make a comb for you
i’ll make you a pop-gun
protect you, should you have
faith, from evil or want

my blossoms’ wine
a clear spring for your heart
my berries’ wine
a red flame for your mind

in your garden hedge
and you seem not to care
ass among trees with
my cargo of wonders

poem by aonghas macneacail

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