The amount of folklore and superstition around Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is pretty astounding, and really fun to read. For hundreds of years, this plant was highly respected, feared and utilized as food, fuel, and medicine. An Elderberry was, and is, considered a "Tree of Medicine". For those settling on a new plot of land or homestead, it was common practice to plant an Elderberry. Researcher John Evylen said “If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark, and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countryman could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy [from the elderberry], either for sickness or wounds.”
Old European societies believed a strong feminine energy resided in the wood of an Elder tree. The Elder Mother had the capability to protect and to harm. No human in there right mind would take from the tree without asking permission. Harvesting berries, snapping branches, and gathering flowers required one to recite the following rhyme:
Lady Ellhorn, give me of thy wood,
And I will give thee of mine,
When I become a tree.”
So if you cut down an elder with out first asking permission, be prepared for a vengeful spirit to rise from the wood, and give you hell!
Other fun information:
Ancient Greeks used the berries to dye their hair "black"
Showy berries on the branches meant it was time for farmers to sow wheat
Elder wood was ideal for making woodwind instruments. The music coming from these instruments is said to connect with fairies and the spiritual world.
Elderberries are great for syrup, jams, cough drops, soups, tea and pastries
Onto the medicine.........
The flowers and berries of the Elder shrub can be gathered for medicine (specifically speaking, Black Elder). There is a reason why an Elder was planted in almost every garden, monastery, and home in Europe. It is a useful culinary and medicinal herb. And if you are superstitious, Elder is said to protect the home and land.
Flowering tops treat coughs, colds and flu. A strong diaphoretic, the flowers cause perspiration to help reduce fever.
An infusion of the flowers can condition the face and skin.
A salve of the flowers can soothe chapped skin.
A tincture of the flowers may help reduce in inflammations caused by allergies, infections, or illness.
Elder flowers mixed with equal parts of mint leaves and yarrow blossoms is a trusty mix of herbs to fight a cold or flu.
Fresh berries are high in antioxidants and Vitamins A and C
Fresh berries have been shown to help reduce symptoms of a cold or flu and shorten recovery time.
Elder berries have been used to help treat rheumatism (inflamed joints, muscles, tissues), skin infections, and they are a mild laxative.
Ripe, cooked berries are harmless. Raw or fresh berries may upset the stomach.