Elder – Sambucus Nigra is my chosen herbal ally for 2014 and here is why.
Growing up in the Cotswolds elder was a familiar site and was one of the first trees I could confidently identify from a very young age, yet I was aware of lots of suspicion and folklore associated with this useful tree. Like rowan, it was one of the trees associated with witchcraft. It was a witches tree, but would also protect your property from witches. It should also never be burned for whoever burns it would be cursed by the fairy who dwells in the tree. Part of me would later wonder whether this was true, for a couple of years prior to the whole street flooding, a few neighbours including myself got together and had a bonfire which accidentally scorched a nearby elder tree.
Nevertheless when I moved house again and the garden of my new house contained a magnificent elder specimen I was secretly pleased for I felt that it was a special tree and it offered protection to the home. For the past few years I have loved looking out of the window at the tree, watching the pigeons and other birds fly in and out of it, eating the blossom and the berries. I am aware that the tree is perhaps getting a little large for a relatively small garden, but the superstitious me has been cautious about trimming it and allowed it to continue to grow. I meditated with the tree and felt that it should not be brutally trimmed. I posted in some Facebook groups asking if anyone had any ideas what I could do with the trimmings and was amazed when many of the group members in America said they would love a wand made from English elder and offered to pay me to ship some wood out there. Although I haven’t taken up their offer, I was surprised at how useful the wood can be with ideas for beads, wands, runes, protective crosses and pentagrams, coasters, spoons, musical instruments. I had previously only considered the tree for its berries and blossoms used for wines, teas, jams and chutneys, but was aware of its usefulness as a medicinal herb thanks to Mrs Grieve who seems to dedicate far more pages to elder in A Modern Herbal than any other plant.
My tree is actually so big that I can’t reach the lower branches to harvest the fruit or blossom so have relied on the numerous trees near to my home or that of my parents to make my wine, but I have felt the urge to work with the wood of this interesting tree in my garden for a while, so when I had to nominate an ally for 2014, there could be no other than the magnificent, magical and healing elder.