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Elder and Its Place in Folklore

The Elder tree has long been used in the kitchen – whether it is for use in cooking recipes, medicinal teas, self medication or cosmetically. Elder also has long had its place in folklore too.

It has been said that the Faery Folk love music and dance; and the wood from Elder was used to make musical instruments. The pale, hard wood of the Elder branches have a soft pithy core that can easily be removed to create hollow pipes – particularly good if making whistles and pipes. The pithy core was pushed from the branches and used as tinder for the fire; the hollowed branches were used for blowing up fires – although because if its structure, the wood itself makes for a poor fuel. It is said that the best time to see Faery Folk is under an Elder Bush on Midsummer’s Eve – although you are advised against falling asleep under the bush, as the strong smell of Elder leaves may have a slightly narcotic effect on you!

The Elder is also thought of as a protective tree, keeping the evil spirits and negative influences away from your home. This may stem from the fact that the aroma from Elder leaves is well known as a fly repellent, and as such, bunches of Elder leaves were tied to doorways and windows – protecting your house from flies and the deceases they carried. This practical use for the Elder may have also led to it being known as a tree that warded off evil influences and protection against witches.

Cutting down an Elder tree also came at a price, as the Elder is considered one of the sacred trees of Wicca and Witchcraft. It is said that if you cut an Elder down, the ‘Elder Mother’ spirit will be freed to take revenge on you. The only way you could safely cut the tree down was to chant a rhyme to the Earth Mother. In witchcraft customs you are warned against burning Elder on your bonfire – otherwise you will be cursed.

Perhaps one of the more prominent folklore stories gives rise to the other name the tree is known by – ‘The Judas Tree’. It is said that the Elder tree was the tree used by Judas Iscariot to hang himself from. This is noted as far back as the 1300’s when Sir John Mandeville’s book entitled “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville”, was published. He stated within that he was shown the Elder Tree that Judas hung himself upon.

Irrespective of the wide and varied folklore stories about Elder, it was and still is, one of the most versatile plants at our disposal and as such, should be protected for future generations.