~Herb of the Month~
Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder (Sambucus nigra/ Sambucus canadensis)
aka: Elhorn, Elder, Hylde Moer, Lady Elder, Elder Mother
Celtic Tree Calendar: November 25th- December 23rd
As the days get darker, wetter, colder, not only are we seeing more folks dealing with colds and flus, but also noticing that it is a time of going more inwards, reflecting on a the more extroverted, energetic time that has passed, and perhaps where we want to go from here. In these times, it seems the allure of lore, story, myth and magic grow as well. Perhaps one of the most steeped in enchanting folklore and mysterious myth, Elder heals and inspires.
So esteemed for it's medicines, there was a time that an Elder tree was ordered by the kingdom to be planted in every yard, so each family could benefit from its 'medicine chest'. Each part of the plant has been used for medicine or magic, including the bark as a strong emetic (causing purging), the fresh leaves as antifungals and the wood used to carve 'Sambucus' flutes- said to create a hauntingly beautiful song associated with Pan and the Underworld or Faerie world. It is also said that the cross that Judas hung himself on was carved of wood from Elder! Branches or charms made from elder used to be hung from doorways to protect from evil spirits or 'charms of witches'. It is considered beneficial to plant elder in the corner of a herb garden because it is thought to 'teach' or tutor the other herbs. Elder trees are found in the People's Apothecary (a community herb garden behind the Vancouver Island School of Art in Quadra Village) and other herb gardens in Victoria.
You could likely draw connections between Elder's protective charm lore, and the way she protects us from common illness of flus and colds. Both elderflowers and berries have properties that strengthen our immune systems and fight viruses. They 'teach' our system how to better protect itself and nourish our blood with iron, plus vitamin c and bioflavonoids (antioxidant compounds that increase absorption of vitamin c, improve heart health, and can reduce allergies, inflammation, viruses and tumor growth). The dried berries also have an aroma of fruity wine and chocolate, which these compounds are also found in...mmm.
There are some differences between the berries and flowers. Berries are especially high in bioflavonoids, ease chest congestion, coughs, and flus, and are rich in iron and vit-c. They are immune-strengthening and anti-viral. Studies show that they are more effective against the flu than any flu-medication. Herbalist Robin Rose Bennet suggests they are best for colds, flus, lower-respiratory infections (lungs) especially the kind that start as a head cold and move down into chest congestion.
Berries are a favourite as a syrup made of a decoction of elderberries, cinnamon, ginger, (maybe even vanilla, cardamom, or I like to add rosehips) and mixed with honey. Taken by the teaspoon or in hot water as a tasty and soothing drink. It is often the first drink that I am able to get down when I am sick with no appetite. Kids will line up for this.
It is also excellent as a tincture or tea. It can also be found as a fresh juice and could be experimented as an infused vinegar as well. A traditional herbal honey recipe could be made using powdered elderberry and honey stirred into a paste. Yum!
Elderflowers are also immune boosting and antiviral. They are helpful for regulating fevers by lowering fever response only when the body doesn't need the fever to fight the virus anymore. The flowers are best for the upper respiratory system (nose, throat, sinus) and can be used for ear pain, sinus congestion, wounds, skin, kidney support, blood and lymph. Elderflower eases skin issues including acne, burns, cuts, and even wrinkles, as it nourishes capillaries, increases circulation, and oxygenates the body. It's antiviral aspects can be used to treat infectious skin conditions like measles and chickenpox! Great for a facial steam or bath. Elderflowers are useful for allergies and hay fever, especially if it leads to sinusitis. It releases and loosens mucus so that it runs freely, while also drying out mucus and gently soothing and softening mucus membranes that might be irritated and inflamed. Use as a steam for face or sinus, a wash, oil, or hydrosol for skin, and as a tea or tincture for overall benefit. Also a delicious treat as a fizzy cordial in the spring.
Elder is also known as Hylde/ Hylde Moer, Elder mother, Elhorn, Lady Elder. There is believed to be a wise spirit of the elder tree who bridges the domains of the Upper and Lower realms -heaven, earth, the underworld, you could say. Lady Elder has been portrayed as both a maiden, mother and a crone figure, meeting those who work with her in the way that they come. She can be soft, nurturing and open- like her delicate sweet smelling white blossoms. While also able to embody wise harshness of an experienced elder, connected to both death and rebirth cycles. It reminds me of the many layers of health, and the need at times to choose whether to fight and persist, or to rest and let go.
There was said to be such a reverence and respect for this tree, that people feared cutting it down or using it's parts without asking permission. What would Lady Elder say about how little we tend to ask for what we take or use?
Herbalist, Robin Rose Bennet describes elder as 'a guide through chaos of transformation' and says it “has a way of increasing awareness of the big picture, enhancing knowledge of interconnection and unity of all life, and opening your heart to ancestral guidance”.
Self Heal Herbal Centre