Herbal Healers – Elder
The Elder is steeped in magic and folklore and is one of our most ancient medicinal plants. It’s hollow stem was supposed to have been used by Prometheus to bring fire to man from the gods!
It is another hedgerow plant and will grow almost anywhere – Mother Elder can sprout from even the tiniest of cracks, and flourish in the harshest of conditions. If she has chosen to plant herself in your garden it means she had chosen to protect your house. It is considered extremely bad luck to cut the elder, a nod to the witch in her! If you need to remove an elder from your garden, as can happen because she is quite invasive once she gets going, always ask politely and explain why you need to do it, this gives the plant spirit time to leave, they don’t say “respect your Elders” for nothing!! I leave an area in my garden that has space for her and actively encourage her, as I use so much of her medicine.
The Elder has always had the connection with the Goddess, feminine energy. She is associated with regeneration, as she can regrow rapidly from any part, and reminds us of the never ending cycle of life death and rebirth. Some of her names are; Hylde-moðer, the Elder Tree Mother, The Witch Tree. The Elder is the Old Crone aspect of the triple Goddess, a wise old energy at the end of the year’s cycle.
A Complete Medicine Chest
Elder is a complete medicine chest, we can use all parts of her in healing, although less now these days, as there was much vilification of the Elder as the Church tried to stamp out paganism! She would have been revered as Goddess, but was turned into a witch by the church, associated with the devil, and ultimately they said that it was Elder wood that was used to make the cross that Jesus was crucified on, and Judas hung himself from! – although Elders branches are very weak, so in case those stretched the credibility of that a bit, they added that as “proof”, god cursed the Elder by making its once straight branches twisted!
Elder has always had duality, and been at the forefront of the Pagan/Christian battle. It was a tree of life, but the devils tree, it was needed hence it was a good herb in the monastery garden, but it was feared so it was a witches plant!
The leaves do smell rather unpleasant, but they have great value as a fly and insect repellent. Because of this, you can tuck a few around yourself to keep mosquitoes and midges at bay, as well as making them into an ointment, which will also ease “old” injuries, bruises and sprains, although this is not popular anymore. Of course, the most well-known and still surviving as commercially sold products are Elderflower cordial, and elderberry syrup!
Every Summer I look forward to seeing those fluffy headed Elderflowers opening, and get making Elderflower cordial, it is so easy and delicious to make, and of course is so good for you, without any of the preservatives that shop bought has. Elder blossom is one of the best herbs for encouraging sweating to break a fever naturally when drunk hot, but as a cold tea will cool night sweats and menopausal hot flushes, and so I will also dry some to use to make teas with throughout the year for medicinal purposes. The flower tea “clears the channels” in the body, promoting elimination via the skin and urinary tract and supporting the circulation. Elderflowers soothe inflammation and congestion of the upper respiratory tract, reduce symptoms of catarrh and sinusitus and are useful alongside nettles in reducing the symptoms of hayfever. You can also use the tea as a soothing skin wash, for inflamed skin and sunburn.
The Elderberries that appear in the autumn are well known for easing the symptoms of cold and flu, are a powerful antiviral and used alongside echinacea and other hedgerow berries (see my hedgerow berry syrup recipe).
As always, when harvesting and foraging, never forage from the road-side or the edges of fields, because of pollution and possible pesticide use. Always forage mindfully, and carefully, never taking more than you need or too much from one plant, apart form the fact that we always need to leave plenty for nature, we also need to leave plenty of flowers to be able to turn into berries in the autumn! Be gentle and don’t damage the plant as you forage – and Mother Elder will reward you with beautiful healthful energy in her blossoms! Have a go at my easy Elderflower cordial recipe, you only need 10 to 20 heads of elderflowers. Make sure that you pick healthy looking heads, with all the flowers open.
This will keep around 6 weeks unopened in the fridge, or you can freeze it to use when needed. Pour over ice cream, make a long cool drink or add to a gin! The perfect summer drink!
Easy Elderflower Cordial
Makes just over a litre:
- 10 – 20 Elderflower heads
- 900g sugar
- 1 lemon – peeled and sliced
- 15g citric acid
- 1 litre of water
- Sterilised glass bottles, or freezer bags
- Large lidded pan
To make my easy elderflower cordial, simply follow these instructions:
- After picking the elderflowers allow them to sit for a short while to let any bugs escape. Ensure there are no brown bits or leaves.
- Slowly dissolve the sugar in the water, then bring to the boil
- Turn off the heat and add the elderflowers, lemon and rind, and citric acid, give it a good stir, put the lid on and leave for 24 hours / overnight
- Strain through muslin and a sieve into sterilised bottles or freezer bags.
And that’s it!! Easy. I hope you enjoy working with the energy of the Elder and all the health benefits she brings. If you’d like to see me making this and talking about Elder as well as other herbal healers, check out my YouTube channel.
Which is still a work in progress, like me!
Much love and Green Blessings,
The content in this article is not intended as a medical reference but as a source of information.
Before trying any herbal remedy the reader is recommended to try a small quantity first to establish whether there are any adverse or allergic reactions to the herb.
Please remember that although all the herbs I use are known for being extremely gentle, when you are using herbs and plants for their medicinal properties, they are just that – ‘medicinal’. If you wish to take a herbal remedy with prescribed medicines, you should talk to a pharmacist or your GP first – treat all herbal remedies with respect.
Neither the author nor the publisher can be held responsible for any adverse reactions to the recommendations in this article. The use of any herb or derivative is entirely at the reader’s own risk.