Day 10 Herb of the Day Elder! Magic and Medicinals. What our Ancestors Knew, by The Magic Apothecary, Mary Elizabeth Micari
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Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Black Elder. Common Elder. Pipe Tree. Bore Tree. Bour Tree. (Fourteenth Century) Hylder, Hylantree. (Anglo-Saxon) Eldrum. (Low Saxon). Ellhorn. (German) Hollunder. (French) Sureau.
Parts Used—Bark, leaves, flowers, berries.
The Elder, with its flat-topped masses of creamy-white, fragrant blossoms, followed by large drooping bunches of purplish-black, juicy berries, is a familiar part of any countryside and in many gardens. The summer begins with sweet white elder flowers and ends with the berries!
The word ‘Elder’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld. In Anglo-Saxon days we find the tree called Eldrun, which becomes Hyldor and Hyllantree in the fourteenth century. One of its names in modern
The generic name Sambucus occurs in the writings of Pliny (doctor and herbalist) and other ancient
Uses as a wood:
The wood of old trees is white and easily cut. It polishes well too and has been used for making skewers for butchers, shoemakers’ pegs, and various turned articles, such as tops for angling rods and needles for weaving nets, also for making combs, mathematical instruments and several different musical instruments.
Cautions for Elderberry
Too much raw elderberry can upset your stomach and cause diarrhea. Pregnant or nursing women are advised to use caution when consuming this herb.
The leaves have an unpleasant smell when crushed and they have been used to ward off most insects. As a natural organic deterrent, you can boil these leaves and then sprinkle on plants, flowers and trees. It will keep aphids and caterpillars off. You can use this on yourself as well. You can also just crush the leaves and put on your face and exposed skin to keep off biting insects.
The bark has been used as a clothing dye for centuries. It is a dark, green black color.
Elder Flowers and Elder Berries have been used for making many home-made drinks and preserves that are truly delicious! These berries are (yes, I have harvested and eaten them right off the tree) sweet and almost like raisins. They make a great home-made brandy. ¼ berries, ¾ brandy or vodka. Let it sit for 6 weeks and voila! Always water it down and add sugar! It is a great way to prevent colds and flu! You can also add to mulled wine, cider or red or white wine of your choice. There are multiple recipes for this on line as there are for Elder jellies and jams too! You can use them the way you would any berry.
Many use the flowers too as an addition to these wines and brandies and a nice tea can be brewed of either or both. The berries the stronger cold and flu preventative but the flowers are useful for this too. The flowers do better as an ointment which can be made at home! Just add the flowers to oil in a double boiler. Wait for them to wilt and cool. Strain off flowers, place back into the double boiler and add a small bit of wax from soy or bees wax. Put in a container and let cool.
If you boil the flowers and make a gruel of them it is said that they will reduce a fever
Many people put the flowers in a vinegar and use on salads. You can use the berries this way too!
Parts Used Medicinally—The bark, leaves, flowers and berries.
You might have to find and dry the bark. This must be used with extreme caution if you do. It can be made into an infusion (strong tea) and used and an emetic (making one vomit) It can be used as a diuretic as well.
Used in the preparation of an ointment historically called Unguentum Sambuci Viride, Green Elder Ointment, which is a remedy for bruises, sprains, chilblains, for use as an emollient, and for applying to wounds.
Here’s an OLD compound recipe:
“It can be compounded as follows: Take 3 parts of fresh Elder leaves, 4 parts of lard and 2 of prepared suet, heat the Elder leaves with the melted lard and suet until the colour is extracted, then strain
Elder Flowers are chiefly used in pharmacy in their fresh state for the distillation of Elder Flower Water!
The flowering season only lasts for about three weeks in June, the flowers are often dried and can be purchased. They can also be used dry for teas and infusions
Elder Flower Water is an old pharmaceutical mixture. Flowers are made into a tea or infusion and then used for mixing medicines used for eye and for skin lotions. You can find it in may French beauty concoctions under the name or Eau de Sureau. Sureau is the French name for Elder. It can be used and often is as a very light form of astringent.
Here is an OLD recipe that can be made at home:
Fill a large jar with Elder blossoms, press them down. Make sure all stalks are removed. Pour 2 quarts of boiling water on them. When they are cooled add alcohol (vodka is fine 80 proof and higher) let them stand overnight covered then strain and put into bottles.
“Fill a large jar with Elder blossoms, pressing them down, the stalks of course having been removed previously. Pour on them 2 quarts of boiling water and when slightly cooled, add 1 1/2 OZ. of rectified spirits. Cover with a folded cloth and stand the jar in a warm place for some hours. Then allow it to get quite cold and strain through muslin. Put into bottles and cork securely.”
Elderflower Water in our great-grandmothers’ days was a household word for clearing the complexion of freckles and sunburn and keeping it in a good condition. Every lady’s toilet table possessed a bottle of the liquid, and she relied on this to keep her skin fair and white and free from blemishes, and it has not lost its reputation! You can use it after swimming to help the skin stay soft and free of pollutants and salt. If you have blemishes you can add the elder flower water to glycerin and use it twice a day.
Elder Flowers, if placed in the water used for washing the hands and face, will soften the skin. To use often place them in a small muslin bag kept by the sink or use this bag in the bathwater! It has been said it will not only help the skin but calm nerves and irritability too!
The flowers were used by our ancestors bronchial and pulmonary disease, and in scarlet fever, measles and other diseases like Chicken pox. An infusion (strong tea) of the dried flowers, Elder Flower Tea, is said to promote expectoration! It is gently laxative and can induce perspiration. It is a good old-fashioned remedy for colds and throat trouble, taken hot before going to bed. An almost perfect cure for the flu in its first stage is a strong infusion of dried Elder Blossoms and Peppermint. Put a handful of each herb in a bowl and two pints of boiling water on them. Let them steep for about a half an hour and then strain. Sweeten and drink in a warm bed as hot as you can stand it. You will begin to perspire and have a good sleep! You might be on a very fast recovery track if you do this as soon as you feel a flu or cold coming on. It is recommended you stay in bed at least 36 hours
Elder Flower Tea, cold, was also considered almost as good for inflammation of the eyes as the distilled Elder Flower Water.
Tea made from Elder Flowers has also been recommended as a splendid spring medicine, to be taken every morning before breakfast for some weeks, being considered an excellent blood purifier.
Externally, Elder Flowers are used in fomentations (poultice) to ease pain and take down inflammation.
A lotion can be made by pouring boiling water on the dried blossoms. This is a healing, cooling and soothing lotion. To make Add 2 ½ ounces of Elder Flowers to 1 quart of boiling water, infuse for an hour and then strain. The liquid can be applied as a lotion on a cloth for boils and skin eruptions. You might also want to try this for a headache, putting the cloth with Elder water on the temples.
People have even eaten the buds with a little oil and vinegar to help with skin eruptions!
Elder Vinegar made from the flowers is an old remedy for sore throats.
Elder Flowers, with their subtle sweet scent are used all the time is cooking in batters for funnel cakes and muffins and in much other baking
The Romans made use of Elderberry juice as a hair-dye! It makes the hair black.
The berries are extensively used for the preparation of Elder Wine.
They can be used for rheumatism and again, like the flowers can be diuretic and emetic. Can also be sued as a laxative.
Elderberry Wine has a reputation like the flower in tea of taken hot, at night, for promoting perspiration in the early stages of severe flue and colds. If the cold has shivering and cold throat. Like Elderflower Tea, it is one of the best preventives known against the advance of the flu and chill. It can aid in asthma.
Since ancient times, something called a ‘Rob’ (a vegetable juice thickened by heat) has been made from the juice of Elderberries simmered and thickened with sugar, forming an invaluable cordial for colds and coughs!
To make Elderberry Rob:
Take 5 lb. of fresh ripe, crushed berries are simmered with 1 lb. of sugar and the simmer until the juice is the thickness of honey. The Rob can be bottled and stored for the winter. You can make this yourself or contact an herbalist (like me) to make it for you in the fall.
A Syrup of Elderberries can be made by picking or using dried berries. No stalks. Stew them in a little water in a pan. After straining them when soft, add ½ oz of ginger. Boil the ingredients for an hour, strain and bottle. It is an excellent cure for a cold. You can also add more anti flu ingredients like plantain, red cherry for coughs, echinacea, garlic and more. Add sugar.
SOME OLD ELDER WINE RECIPES
From a Modern Herbal by Mrs. Grieve
“’To every quart of berries put 2 quarts of water; boil half an hour, run the liquor and break the fruit through a hair sieve; then to every quart of juice, put 3/4 of a pound of Lisbon sugar, coarse, but not the very coarsest. Boil the whole a quarter of an hour with some Jamaica peppers, ginger, and a few cloves. Pour it into a tub, and when of a proper warmth, into the barrel, with toast and yeast to work, which there is more difficulty to make it do than most other liquors. When it ceases to hiss, put a quart of brandy to eight gallons and stop up. Bottle in the spring, or at Christmas. The liquor must be in a warm place to make it work.’
Magical Uses of Elder
Through time The Elder became the emblem of sorrow and death. There are many superstitions that surround it and legends which group up over time. Some won’t cut it because they fear bad luck. Gypsies never use the wood in camp fires and fear it being in their woods. Supposedly the cross of Jesus was made from Elder and because of that people were afraid to harm it. Most northern countries of Europe see Elder as the Mother tree and deeply associated with Magic. In its branches was a dryad the Hylde-Moer, the Elder Tree Mother, who lived in the tree. If the tree was cut and made into furniture it was believed that the Hylde-Moer was in it still and would haunt the owners. People feared ever putting a child in an Elder wood cradle because of the Hylde-Moer being in the wood and haunting the child. It was said that to chop down the tree one would ask the Hylde-Moer and if no answer came to stop you then it was ok to proceed.
The Russians believed that Elder-trees drive away evil spirits, and others in the European north thought of it as a spell to take away fever. In Southern Italy people thought that sticks of its wood would kill serpents and drive away robbers. Some people added a stick of Elder into their wedding bouquets for good luck. In old England it was believed that the Elder was never struck by lightning and a twig of it tied into three or four knots and placed and carried in the pocket was a charm against rheumatism. It was also used on doors of barns to protect animals.
An Elder bush, trimmed into the form of a cross, was planted on a new-made grave, and if it blossoms, the soul of the person lying beneath it is happy was a common thought too Green Elder branch were also buried in a grave to protect the dead from evil spirits. In some places the driver of the hearse would carry a whip make of Elder wood.
In Denmark there was an old belief that anyone standing under an Elder tree on Midsummer Eve would see the King of Fairyland ride by, attended by all his retinue.
Apart from all these traditions, the Elder has had from the earliest days a firm claim on the popular affection for its many sterling virtues.
Woodwind instruments made from Elder are said to produce music most beloved of the Spirit world, hinting at Elder’s power to connect energies.
In astrology, Elder is considered a feminine tree and is governed by Venus. Its element is water.