An absolutely brilliant tree is the elder, Sambucus nigra. It has it all: magical properties, healing properties and it is even edible. Before the existence of antivirals like Tamiflu, elderberry would have been our best hope for fighting diseases like the coronavirus, which has been all over the papers in recent years. But it can do much more.
Let us start with the healing properties of elderberry. They range wide, which is exactly why Hippocrates called this tree his medicine cabinet. As mentioned, it has powerful antiviral properties. It is a diaphoretic, so it promotes perspiration. It helps your body recover because it is rich in phenols and anthocyanins. It is therefore an excellent choice if you want to fight a cough, cold, or flu.
Elder reduces the risk of coronary infarction due to its anti-inflammatory properties and the relaxing effect it has on coronary arteries. Elderberry juice soothes cramps and neuralgic pain.
As with any powerful healing plant, its magical properties are mostly of the protective kind. That is why I always make sure that an elder tree grows next to every entrance to my property to keep out intruders and others with bad intentions. If you do not have enough space for a whole tree, not to worry. A clipping on your door and windows will work too. Burning elderwood in your fire during a storm helps protect your home from lightning strikes.
Elder is one of the Midsummer or St. John’s Worts. Collecting elder in combination with other herbs associated with Midsummer will result in seeing the future within an hour of collecting it. Or it will bring about a lucid dream if placed under your pillow. It is hardly surprising – after all it is a diaphoretic – that elder is also used for purification purposes.
A use that particularly interests me is elder’s ability to ensure protection while communicating with the Otherworld. It keeps away those who intend to harm me, while facilitating communication with those I want to interact with.
Elderberry is a dense, deciduous shrub or tree that stands on a powerful root. The trunk is grey with a rough, cracked bark. The elder grows and spreads at lightning speed. Okay, that is a tad exaggerated, but still, it grows really fast. As a result, the wood is not strong, but porous. It is white in colour and has an open pith.
The leaves are opposite and odd-pinnate. They consist of five to eleven ovate or lanceolate leaflets with a serrated margin that are 3 to 12 cm in size. The leaves are dark green in colour.
The elder is known for its exuberant way of flowering, which consists of up to 20 cm large corymbose inflorescences with creamy white flowers that smell wonderful. The flowers are on average 8 mm in size and consist of a tubular calyx and five petals. They bloom at least from May to July, but can bloom into September if they go through a second bloom. Next, the little, round fruits appear, green at first, later ripening into dark purple berries with blood-red juice. Each berry contains up to five seeds.
Elder uses a lot of water, which results in few plants growing in its neighbourhood. You will therefore see little undergrowth underneath an elder tree.
Edible fungi called Judas ears sometimes grow on elders.
Among the Germanic peoples, the elder was dedicated to Thor and Freya. Freya was said to live inside this tree.
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