Saturday, 30 January 2016

Elder by Unity

Elder -Sambucus nigra

Gender - Feminine

Planet - Venus

Element - Water

Deities - Holda , Venus

Powers - exorcism , protection , healing , prosperity and sleep

The elder tree is a common sight in the British countryside and gardens , with its creamy - white frothy blossoms in the summer and purplish - black berries in the Autumn. It is considered to be unlucky to cut down or burn elder as The Elder Mother was thought to reside within it and it should never be cut without her permission. Before cutting any wood from it the following formula was recited while kneeling before the tree, prior to making the first cut.

‘Lady Ellhorn, give me of thy wood,
and I will give thee of mine,
when I become a tree.'

I would always thank the tree after you have cut any wood from it as well and if possible leave an offering for the tree spirit / dryad, I like to take a small jar with some liquid fertilizer with me, to pour on the roots of the tree, although I don't like cutting trees and prefer to use naturally dropped branches and twigs.

The elder is a medicine chest in itself , from the mud growing round its roots, traditionally thought to have special power in treating toothache , its bark being used as a painkiller and emetic , the leaves being used to treat eczema and sores , the flowers for fevers , coughs and colds and the berries to boost the immune system. In the forest of Dean , elderflower wine was regarded as such a good all round cure , that it was given for any ailment for a couple of days ; if the patient showed no improvement , it was time to call the doctor ! Modern herbalists use the berries for their antiviral properties and to stimulate the immune system. However don't eat the berries or seeds raw as they will make you sick. Elderflower water in centuries gone by was used by women to clear freckles, ease sunburn and soften and whiten their skin. It is still used today in some skin and eye creams and lotions. Going back even further, the Romans used elderberries as a hair dye.

Branches from the elder tree contain a soft pithy core which is easily removed to create a whistle or pipes, it is said the faeries use them for their music. Children also used to use the hollow branches as pop guns or whistles. The best time to encounter faeries is under an elder bush on Midsummer Eve, when the faery King and Queen and their train could be seen passing by. 

It is thought dangerous to fall asleep under the elder, as your soul may be kidnapped and taken into faeryland. However it was also considered safe to shelter under it during thunderstorms as it would not be struck by lightning (I wouldn't suggest you try this though!) Cradles were never made from its wood as it was thought a faery would replace your child with a changeling.

In common with other trees with white blossom, such as hawthorn and rowan, the elder had strong associations with many Mother Goddess figures. Like rowan, elder was thought of as a protective tree and it was auspicious if it was growing in your garden, especially if it had seeded itself there. The rowans place was the front door and the elder at the back door, to keep evil spirits and other negative influences from entering the home, it is also said to give prosperity to the household, and sticks placed around the house protect against snakes and robbers. The aroma of the leaves keeps flies away and the diseases they carry which is another good reason for having it grow by the back door which often leads to the kitchen in most homes, the last place you want flies. Bunches of leaves were hung in doorways, in livestock barns and attached to horses harnesses for the same reason. Elder was traditionally planted around dairies, and it was thought to stop the milk from turning. They were also planted around bakeries as protection from the devil.

The name elder may have been derived from Hylde-Moer, the Scandinavian matriarchal tree spirit and deity associated with the elder. It has also been suggested that the name may derive from the Anglo-Saxon Aeld, meaning fire, possibly referring to the pithy core of the wood which was used at tinder. 

There is a huge amount of folklore and superstition concerning the Elder, and below are a few examples:

Elder has the power to force an evil magician to release any enchantments or spells they may have cast against you. The berries, when carried protect you from evil and negativity. To prevent rheumatism, tie a twig of elder into three or four knots and carry in your pocket. Elder is used at weddings to bring good luck to the couple, and pregnant women kiss the tree for good fortune for the coming baby. Place elderberries beneath your pillow if you have difficulty sleeping. Warts can be cured by rubbing them with a green elder twig and then burying it to rot in mud. In some rural parts it was believed that if a child was chastised with an elder switch, it will cease to grow. 

The Elder is one of the Celtic Ogham trees; its Ogham name is Ruis. According to Glennie Kindred its energies are ‘transformation, renewal, regeneration and wisdom of an elder ' She says the tree has a wise old woman energy and the protection of the old crone aspect of the Triple Goddess who guards the entrance to the Underworld and death. 

I feel the Elder is a tree of wisdom, and if approached and treated with respect it has a very warm and loving energy, which is shown in its gifts of medicine and food that it gives us. I often pick the flowers and berries from a local tree when they are ready (after first asking politely and leaving an offering of plant fertilizer) I use the flowers mainly in a cold and flu tea which I make. 

You use equal measures of dried Elder flowers, (easily removed from the stems with a fork) peppermint and yarrow, mix the herbs together and I keep them in a clean jam jar in a kitchen cupboard. Then when I feel a cold coming on I make a tea with 1 tbs of the mix. 

I use the berries that I pick in the autumn to make elderberry syrup: Remove the berries from the stems with a fork as with the flowers. Put ripe elderberries into a large saucepan with half their volume of water. Simmer and stir for 20 mins. Allow to cool, then squeeze the juice, I usually line a fine sieve with a square of muslin and pour the berries and juice through into a jug, then squeeze and press down onto the muslin to get all the juice out of the berries , you could use a jelly bag . Measure the juice , and for every 500ml of juice add 250g muscovado sugar or honey ( I used honey this year and prefer it ) a stick of cinnamon , a few cloves and a few slices of lemon. Simmer for 20 mins then strain and pour while hot into sterilized bottles. Dose: 1 tsp neat every few hours for colds and flu or use it as a cordial and add boiling water to taste for a hot drink.


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