The Healing Medicine of Trees - Elder
by Susun Weed
ELDER is the last letter of the ogam alphabet (Ruis). It rarely attains tree status where it grows in North America, but it has taken me by surprise several times in Europe by the height to which it can grow (up to ten meters) and the tough bark it is capable of making.
Around the world, elder is viewed as a tree that is so sacred and awesome that it is to be feared. In the British Isles, anyone who cut down an elder tree, it was believed, would suffer at the hands of the woman who lives in the elder. She is known by many names, including Elda Mohr, Hylde Moer, Frau Ellhorn, and Frau Holle. And she is found in many stories from many lands.
She is a guardian of children and is willing to help anyone who asks her nicely. But she takes revenge if she is not honored or respected.
One year, when I had a job taking juvenile delinquents on weed walks, I took the girls to an elder bush and had them sit under it while I told them a story about Elda Mohr. The counselor told me that many of them went back, over and over again, to sit with the Elda and talk to her. They found a refuge in her branches and ease in her leaves. Yes, elder is indeed the guardian of all children.
Remedies made from elder flowers and elder berries (Sambucus nigra) are favorites for easing children’s fevers, colds, and flus. Elder flowers may be dried to make a tea, or tinctured fresh to bring down high fevers rapidly. Five to ten drop doses may be repeated every thirty minutes or as needed. Elder berries may be tinctured from fresh or dried berries, or turned into tasty syrups, jams, and jellies. Science confirms their flu-fighting abilities. Elder berries soothe sore throats, quell coughs, relieve asthma, ease bronchitis, and clear chest congestion. Fermented elder berries make a semi-permanent hair dye for those who prefer a their locks dark in color.
Fresh elder flowers may be fermented into champagne. One book refers to this brew as “Liquid Light.” It relies on the natural yeast present on the flowers, which must be picked on a bright sunny day. Elder berry wine is justifiably famous; the color and taste are unlike anything I have ever drunk.
Ruis means “red in the face,” which some authors connect with shame and embarrassment, while others believe it refers to anger. I don’t agree with either of those views. I think it reminds us that elder is used to treat those who have red faces; in fact, I suspect it may be effective against the skin disease rosacea, which reddens the face and causes outbreaks of pustules.
The “pimples” on the bark are the “signature” to use it against pimples. Elder leaves are steeped into a tea that is used as a wash to clear the complexion of redness and outbreaks.
Elder leaf poultices are also used to ease sprains, bruises, and headaches. Fresh leaves are the best; I admit to never using elder this way as there as so many common poultice plants and elder, at least where I live, is rather uncommon – certainly not as near at hand as plantain or burdock leaf! An ointment of the bark is used to help heal ulcers, burns and abrasions.
Elder trees are said to be the home of fairies. If you sleep under an elder at the full moon, you may see the fairies. If the full moon is near the summer solstice, the fairies may invite you home to play with them. An elder wand is the best one to use if you must exorcise something or someone. An elder wand wards off evil so well, the drivers of the hearses used to carry whips fashioned of elder wood.
Elder is hollow, so it has been used to make functional pipes for transferring liquids as well as musical pipes for transferring emotions. An elder stake is said to outlast iron when put into the ground. Elder grows easily in the temperate regions; it likes cold winters. Plant one and you will enjoy her fragrant flowers, delicious berries, stately grace, and – who knows – you may even become a friend of the fairies.