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.
Harvesting the Elderberries in Late Summer
Mother Elder is not known as Mother Natures Medicine chest for nothing! Come late summer, the Elder bushes turn a deep dark purple with the fruit that the flowers turned into.
Benefits of Elderberry
Elderberries naturally contain vitamins A, B, and C and stimulate the immune system. Israeli researchers found that the complex sugars in elderberries support the immune system in fighting cold and flu. They developed several formulas based on these complex sugars that have been clinically shown to help ameliorate all kinds of cold/flu. But harvesting and making your own syrup is so easy, and only filled with what you put into it, as well as all the love and healing intention that you can infuse into a potion that you make for your own and familys wellbeing!
As always, forage mindfully, never harvest from busy road sides or take too much from one plant…and always leave some for the birds and animals, as elderberries are a vital food source for them through the autumn and winter months.
Be sure you can identify your berries, as there are many dark berries around this time of year that look similar but can be poisonous! Also, do not eat the stems and leaves of the elder, or eat the berries raw, they can give you a nasty stomach ache.
Easy Elderberry Syrup Recipe
This recipe uses ginger and cinnamon as they are both known for their antiviral and healing properties, but you can omit them, or add any other herbs and spices you want, for example, star anise, cardomom, mixed spice. It’s easy to make and you can eat it by the spoonful, drizzle onto porridge or yogurt, or add a dash to fizzy wine.
Pick the clusters by breaking off the large stem – they should snap off of the branches easily. Shake off any insects.
The easiest way to remove the berries from the stalks is to strip them using the prongs of a fork. If you can’t use the berries straight away, they can be frozen and used later.
- Carefully separate your elderberries from their stalks with a fork or your hands
- Chop up a little ginger into small pieces
- Put the elderberries and chopped ginger into a pan and cover them with water
- Bring to the boil and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly
- Pour the mixture through a jelly bag or muslin (fine cloth) and allow the juice to drip through. Extract as much liquid as possible
- Pour the elderberry liquid into a measuring jug, and measure how much you have. Now add equal parts sugar to the liquid mixture – so if you measured 500ml of juice, add 500g of sugar, or if you have 1 litre of liquid, add 1 kilo of sugar or you could substitute honey. I tend to use less sugar, as it’s not so good for you, but play with it and sweeten to taste. The berries are tart!
- Add the sugar and a little ground cinnamon or cinnamon stick to the strained liquid. Simmer for five minutes and then cool and pour into sterilised bottles.
- Ripe elderberries
- Raw organic apple cider vinegar
- Sugar (brown, demerara or natural caster)
- Mixed spice
- Strip the elderberries off the stalks with a fork and place them in a glass jar, a mason jar or jam jar is perfect.
- Fill to the top with the apple cider vinegar
- Cover and leave to infuse for 5 days.
- Put the contents of the jar into a saucepan and cook on a low simmer for 10 mins
- Strain the berries, return the vinegar to the heat, add sugar (to taste, it depends on the volume of liquid used initially), and add a pinch or two of your favourite warming spices – I use mixed spice, but you could use star anise, cardamom, cinnamon etc.
- Warm gently for a few minutes until the sugar is dissolved
- Pour into a sterilised jar.
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.