One of my favourite trees is definitely the elderberry, Sambucus nigra. It has it all: magical properties, healing properties and it’s even edible. Before the existence of antivirals like Tamiflu, the elderberry would have been our best hope to battle diseases like the coronavirus, which is all over the newspapers at the moment. But it can do way, way more.
Let’s start with the healing properties. They range far and wide, which is the reason Hippocrates called the elderberry his medicine cabinet. As said, it has powerful antiviral properties. It is also a diaphoreticum. It helps your body recover, because it’s rich in phenols and anthocyanins. So it’s an excellent choice if you want to combat a cough, cold or flu. It also brings down the risk of coronary infarcts due to its anti-inflammatory properties and the relaxing effect it has on coronary arteries. The juice of elderberries calms cramps and neuralgic pain.
As with any powerful healing plant, its magical properties are most of all of the protective kind. That’s why I always make sure an elderberry grows next to any entrance to keep trespassers and others with bad intentions out. If you not have the space for the whole tree, a clipping attached to your door and in front of your windows will work as well. Burning it in your hearth during a storm is said to protect your house from lightning striking.
Elderberry is also one of the Midsummer or Saint John’s herbs. Collecting elderberry in conjunction with a certain number of other herbs connected to Midsummer will result in seeing the future within an hour of collecting or bring on a lucid dream when put underneath one’s pillow. Not surprisingly – after all, it is a diaphoreticum – it’s also used for purification purposes. To me a very interesting use is ensuring protection while I commune with spirits. It keeps those who mean to harm well away while it facilitates communication with those I wish to contact.
Bushy, deciduous shrub or tree. Stands on a powerful root. The trunk is grey with a rough, cracked bark. The elder spreads and grows at lightning speed. The wood is therefore not very strong, but porous. It is white in colour and has an open pith. The leaves are opposite and odd pinnate. They consist of 5 to 11 ovate or lanceolate leaflets with a serrated edge which are 3 to 12 centimetres in size. The leaves are dark green in colour.
The elder is known for its exuberant inflorescence consisting of up to 20 centimetres large corymbose inflorescence, with creamy white flowers that smell wonderful. The flowers are on average 8 mm in size and consist of a tubular calyx and 5 petals. They always bloom from May to July, but can bloom until September when they have a second flowering. After the flowers, the berries appear, first green, ripening to dark purple with blood-red juice. The berry contains up to 5 seeds.
The elder uses a lot of water, with as a result few plants growing in its neighbourhood. So you will see little undergrowth under an elder.
Wood ears sometimes grow on the elder.
According to the Germans, the elder was dedicated to Thor and Freya. Freya was said to live in the tree.