Wednesday, March 26, 2014

E: The Elder Tree: a very useful tree

Elder Trees are amazing trees from their various uses in which you can use every part of them to some of the folk lore and myths about them. Some of those of the Christian faith, long ago, placed negative connotations on the tree, claiming that Judas Iscariot hung himself from an Elder Tree after he betrayed Jesus. They even claimed that wood from the Elder Tree was used in part of the making of the cross or that the cross was made entirely of Elder tree wood. Perhaps this is true, perhaps it was just another way for the Christian hierarchy to use something Pagans venerated and twist it to their particular agenda. I will never know for certain, I wasn't alive back then and people can speculate until they are blue in the face. It will never change the fact that this tree is useful in so many ways, but I will get to that in a moment.

For the more wondrous and mystical aspects, it's said in Irish Folklore that anyone who falls asleep under an Elder might never awaken. The fragrance of the flowers can transport you to the fairy realms.  (It's suspected that the strong smell of the leaves might have some mildly narcotic influences.)  It is also said that the Fairies like music from instruments made of Elder wood. Perhaps that is because the wood seems to make ideal instruments with branches having a soft core that's easily removed to create hollow, readily polished pipes. Not only can you make pipes from Elder wood but you can make whistles and chanters ( they are the piece of a bag pipe that you blow into).

Elder Trees were thought to be trees of protection and luck. If you planted one near your house it was said to prevent lighting strikes. Nowadays they are supposed to be of great help to organic gardening and can improve your compost heap or pile. Apparently the odor of the leaves repels files and so people hung batches of them from kitchen doorways and windows and even in barns to help keep the files away from the livestock. You can boil the leaves and spray the liquid around the house to keep bugs away and even spray plants to keep them free of pests. Trees were planted near dairies to keep the milk from turning and near bakeries or bake houses to protect them from the devil. People placed loaves of bread and cakes under the trees to cool and anything left overnight was considered a gift to the fairies.

Elder wood makes a bad source of fuel though. The sap and structure of the wood makes it spit and scream, which is a bit unpleasant. However there are many practical and medicinal uses of the Elder tree. It was believed that if a woman gathered dew from Elder flowers and washed her face, the dew would enhance and preserve her youthful beauty. Furthermore Elder flower water has been used for cosmetic preparations. Elder flowers have and are used in lotions, cleansers, and creams for skin conditions, and apparently even for serious eye problems. Elder flower tea before bed is said to combat cold and flu-like symptoms by bringing forth a cleansing sweat.

Elderberries have been used for throat complaints. They are a good blood tonic and the berries made into a syrup are a good cough remedy and has even been used to help anemia. Other uses for Elderberries and Elderberry wine have been to help sooth or take care of sciatica, rheumatism, migraines, bronchitis and catarrh, laryngitis, conjunctivas, and gout. The leaves can be used as an expectorant and purgative and even a diuretic, but they are mildly toxic and shouldn't be eaten raw nor should the berries.

Elderberries do make yummy jams and puddings, and tasty wines. Not only that but the ancient Celts and Britons boiled berries in wine and used it for black hair dye. The Harris Tweed Industry used the berries for blue and purple dye, leaves for yellow and green dye, and from the bark and roots they got grey and black dye.

So, whether it's from dye, to medicinal, to food and drink, for beauty, or protect your home and or ward off pesky bugs, to making musical instruments for yourself or to entertain the fairy folk, the Elder Tree is quite the functional tree.  

Mythology and Folklore of the Elder

The Elder Tree: A Closer Look

The Elder Tree