Common names: Bore Tree
History: A fragrant flowering tree, Elder gets its name form the Anglo-Saxon word aeld to mean "fire." The soft pith of young elder branches is easily removed, leaving a hollow tube or pipe. Presumably, these tubes were once used to blow on a fire in order to encourage the flames. But these pipes were also representative of early toys and musical instruments still popular today - pop-guns, flutes and whistles. Culpepper referenced the familiarity of elder when he wrote, "It is needless to write any description of this [Elder], since every boy that plays with a pop-gun will not mistake another tree for the Elder."
Elder wood has long been revered for its quality and strength. The tree is also graced with mystical powers and many ancient superstitions are associated with it. Judas reputedly repented his traitorous acts by hanging from an elder. The Dutch believed that elder trees were home to Hylde-Moer, or the Elder Mother, who hid among the branches. It was considered unwise to cut the wood of elder without first securing permission from Hylde-Moer. To do so would result in the tree spirit haunting whatever object the wood was obtained to make, as well as the humans that harbored it. There is also a persistent belief that the Cross of Calvary was made of elder, as an old rhyme relates:
'Bour tree-Bour tree: crooked rong
Never straight and never strong;
Ever bush and never tree
Since our Lord was nailed on thee."
Medicinally, elder has been used for bruises, purging, to deter insects, as an eye wash and to treat colds and flu for centuries. Of these applications, the last holds particularly veritable promise. In fact, elderberry is one of the most important remedies to be found in your medicine chest when it comes to beating the sniffles.
In the 1980s, virologist Madeline Mumcuoglu, Ph.D., set out to determine by what mechanism elderberry successfully defeats the flu. She found that the action of elderberry extract was to prevent viral hemagglutinin, or the process of the invading cells using their spike-like projections to introduce its enzyme into healthy cell membranes. She further noted that the viral enzyme is also neutralized in the presence of elderberry extract.
Constituents: rutin and quercertin (flavonoids), vitamin C, anthocyanins
Caution: The berries are toxic unless cooked.
Simple Elderberry Syrup
1/2 cup whole dried elder berries
3 cups water
1 cup raw honey
Optional: 1 cinnamon stick, 2-3 whole cloves, 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
Place the berries, water and spices, if using, in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain, smashing the berries with the back of the spoon to collect the juice. Let the strained mixture cool for a few minutes, then stir in honey. Transfer into a clean glass bottle and label. Keeps in the fridge for up to 3 months. To use, take 1 tablespoon 2-3 times per day.