On a recent wild-crafting hike, I came across enough Elder bushes at the peak of bloom to call forth memories of my Danish grandmother’s garden.
The experience got me thinking about the lore behind Elder…
Part of the honeysuckle family, Elder is considered sacred to many mother and crone goddesses.
Much herbal wisdom suggests one doesn’t cut the wood of a living Elder, nor is it recommended for burning lest bad luck befall the offending party and family. Cradles, in particular, were not to be made of Elder wood lest the spirit that lived in the bush seek to reclaim her sacred wood. In Denmark, tradition says one doesn’t cut a branch or break a twig for fear of incurring the wrath of Hyldemor, the Elder-mother, who was understood to be a venerable but fierce tree spirit dwelling in the hollow core of the Elder’s branches.
To avoid any misunderstanding when attempting to take Elder wood, most traditions suggest asking the Elder-mother for permission if one is compelled to take of her branches. Some even suggest promising the Elder-mother one’s own “wood” (or bones) back to the earth at the end of one’s life as a trade.
It’s interesting to balance the negative association sometimes assigned to the mother-Goddess in Elder with the “bad rap” Elder often gets from patriarchal religions. What some cultures see as a venerable Elder-mother who just wants people to think-before-taking is sometimes distorted by phallo-centric cultures into a testy, spiteful, and not-to-be-trusted witch.
In the same way patriarchal cultures may see older women as spent and useless, they may also relegate Elder to a dark corner.
But this is no wasted woman. Elder is a CRONE. And this crone is the embodiment of later life’s magic: wild, wise, compassionate, at once fragile and delicate, full of power and possibility.
If we recognize and respect her magic–and greet her with humility and gratitude for what she offers–Elder often shares her beautiful secrets and unique magic with us…
Said to be aligned with beginnings and endings, Elder has a logical association with birth and death, here and hereafter, and the gateway between both worlds.
The same fierce protective energy found in the Elder-mother can be found in the protective energies of Elder itself: it is said to ward off evil and, particularly, evil magic. Elder is also indicated in (and for) sorrow and grief, particularly with the death of a loved one.
Instead of imagining the Elder-mother as a greedy, demanding, harbinger of death, I speculate that she rigorously cautioned folks against carelessly cutting or burning Elder wood and branches to secure and preserve the abundance of magic and nutrition available in her blooms and berries. Both are widely used in medicinal herbal blends as well as wine, jams, jellies, and syrups. (Handy since both blossoms and fruits can presumably be readily enjoyed without one having to energetically bargain with the Elder bush’s resident mother!)
Elder blossoms are said to restore innocence and embody humility and truth.
The blossoms appear as clusters of tiny, ethereally fragranced and fragile blooms with a limited window wherein they are at their peak. Typically, you only have a week or two to find and collect Elder blossoms at their best. The blooms I encountered recently were just perfect and could have rivaled those used in my mormor’s inimitably delicate, sweet, and delightful hyldeblomstsaft. While I didn’t pick any Elder blooms that day, I was nevertheless inspired to dig up the elder flower punch recipe that evolved from my time in various Danish farm kitchens.
In addition to providing a delicious and delicate summer refreshment, Elder flower punch is an all natural way to hydrate your kids or grandkids while also imparting the abiding protection and love of mother and grandmother and offering the magical properties of innocence and truth to the young mouths that consume it…
Elder Flower Punch Syrup aka Danish Hyldeblomstdrik
A sublime way to capture and share the delicate magic of beautiful Elderflower
- 40 Elderflower blossom clusters at their peak
- 3 organic lemons
- 2 quarts of boiling water
- 3 pounds of organic sugar (or, ideally, raw, organic honey just to taste to truly experience the blossom)
- 2T citric acid
- 3 cinnamon sticks (optional)
- Step 1 Collect the elderflowers with gratitude and reverence. Allow the blossoms to rest on a dry towel for a time to give all of the wee bugs a chance to walk away from the blossoms.
- Step 2 Cut the stems away from the flowers and discard the stems to your compost.
- Step 3 Rinse lemons well and roll them across the counter to prime release of the juice within.
- Step 4 Cut the lemons into thin slices and place them with the flowers in a large, heat-proof container. You’ll want a container that can handle boiling water and be covered while the mixture infuses in your fridge.
- Step 5 Add the sugar and citric acid to the water in a thick-bottomed pot and bring just to a boil. (If using honey instead of sugar, allow the mixture to come down from its boil, remove from heat and add honey, stirring to dissolve completely.)
- Step 6 Turn off the heat and pour the sweetened water over the blossoms and lemon slices. (If you want to include the cinnamon sticks, add them here. I honestly prefer the recipe without them.)
- Step 7 Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 days before straining through a sieve first and cheesecloth next.
- Step 8 Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze in cubes. To prepare punch, mix 1 part of the punch syrup with 2-3 parts water.
(HINT: This makes CRAZY delicious ice cubes that can be dropped into a cocktail or blended into a slush with alcohol if you desire a more adult indulgence of Elder. I’m not saying, I’m just saying…)
Bless and blessed be!