The Elder has been used since ancient times for its medicinal properties. In fact it was once considered to be the “Medicine Chest Tree” as all its parts can be used to treat common ailments. Although the leaves, bark, flowers and berries were once used, it is mainly the flowers and berries that have a modern usage. This is because the bark and leaves, when used internally, are quite strong purgatives. Possibly at bit too heroic for our contemporary tastes!
Elderflowers have been traditionally used for the treatment of colds and flu’s; when drunk hot in a tea they help you to sweat, thus reducing your temperature and sweating the infection out. They are also great for catarrh and hence are not only good for colds but also for hayfever and sinusitis. They also make a beautiful drink called Elderflower Champagne that is light and refreshing served chilled on a summer evening.
Elderberries have many of the same properties as the flowers, but they also contain lots of Vitamin C. They have been the subject of a lot of research which is showing that they are also active against flu viruses; they are able to stop the virus from infecting your cells as well as stopping it spreading. Hence if you take Elderberries from the start of your cold or flu you can reduce the severity and length of your illness. This is great example of how modern research is confirming what we already know from our traditional knowledge.
Of course the Elder is also a magical tree with a wealth of folk lore associated with it. For example there is supposed to be a spirit called Hylde-Moer or Elder-Mother who dwells within the tree and watches over it. If the tree is cut down without the permission of Hyle-Moer, she is said to haunt those who do so. Hence before making a cut it is traditional to say: “Elder Mother, give me some of your wood and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest”. If you don’t, well you have been warned!