It’s said that a witch can easily turn herself into an Elder.
This tree has so many food and medicinal uses, and is central to so much folklore, it is a true witch’s tree, suitably demonised by the church as if to confirm its magical status. (Even the name sounds wise, doesn’t it?)
Some Native American peoples said that the Elder tree taught other trees how to grow, whilst in Scandinavia, Elder had its own dryad (tree spirit) called HyldeMoer – ‘Elder Mother’. Elder has been used traditionally by Celts and other northern European peoples to make magic wands, amulets and other protective and magical tools.
Elder trees act as gateways between this world and the fairy realm – people who sit or sleep beneath Elder trees may be transported to other worlds, never to return. It’s bad luck to make a baby’s cradle from Elder, as the fairy-folk – or HyldeMoer herself – may come and snatch the baby away, or even replace it with a fairy-baby. Elder trees were planted in burial grounds to help spirits pass over. In the ancient tree ogham, Elder is Ruis, the letter ‘R’, and is associated with Samhain – the end/beginning of the Wheel of the Year.
The Elder represents the end in the beginning and the beginning in the end. It teaches us to honour the cycle of death and rebirth, that in all endings there is always a new beginning.
Glennie Kindred, The Sacred Tree
Elderflowers and Elderberries
In midsummer, the Elder tree is in full bloom, with large, foaming white heads made up of thousands of tiny, tiny flowers. They smell heavenly on a sunny day. You can use them to flavour all kinds of things: steep with hot water and sugar to make a tasty cordial, make Elderflower wine (my all-time favourite) or champagne. Or make sweet elderflower fritters! Simply drying the flowers in a warm place (I use a stackable bamboo steamer!) makes my home smell delicious.
Elder flowers are a useful cold remedy as it boosts the immune system. Dried and blended with yarrow and mint (both also abundant here just now) they make a tasty tea that can help you move quickly through a cold. Alone, Elderflower tea is a cleansing tonic that opens pores and in larger quantities induces sweating.
Elderberries – which arrive around September – are so high in vitamin C they can help you to not catch a cold in the first place! Make a tincture or cordial, make jam, sauce (substitude elderberries for any berries in your recipes) or just eat the berries raw – they’re delicious. (Avoid the toxic unripe green ones!)
There are many, many uses for Elder flowers, berries, bark and more – check Mrs Grieve for lots more.
Autumn elderberry elixir recipe
Another way to work with the magic of Elder is to create a ceremonial drink. This potent elderberry elixir can be made right now, early autumn, and will be ready in time for Samhain or Halloween!
It’s super-simple, and the drink can be brought out at rituals, gatherings or special moments for a small, potent, tasty toast:
Fetch a large jar and fill it to the brim with elderberries (it will take a long time to pick and sort them all, remove any green ones and all bits of stalk). Pour a jar of honey over all of it and watch it seep down through the jar (beautiful!). Then pour brandy over the whole thing until the jar is topped up (or use apple juice if you prefer a non-alcohol version – but watch out for fermentation!) If you like, you could also add warming spices, like a few cloves, nutmeg, or cinnamon at this point.
Place the jar on your windowsill and shake it every day for a week, then put it in a dark place and leave for another couple of months, shaking regularly. After this, strain the mixture into a bottle and voila! A deep, dark, luscious drink and a witch’s toast (and it will be ready in time for Samhain!)
Whenever I pass this around, it induces giggling and light spirits – a fun way to bring everybody together and close out a ritual on a happy note.
Like this? See also: Make a magical rowan berry garland!