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…
Elder is steeped in magical lore and archetypal association. 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 many 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 case Elder’s reputation with some religions wasn’t already dodgy enough for you, it is reputed that Jesus was crucified on a cross made of wood from the Elder tree.
Beyond the cautions for carelessly taking Elder, there are many positive and curious associations to be found. 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 sometimes 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 medicinals as well as wine, jams, jellies, and syrups. (Not surprising, since both can presumably be readily enjoyed without one having to energetically bargain with the Elder bush’s resident mother).
Elder blossoms, in particular, are said to restore innocence and possess 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 peak. 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 magical properties of innocence and truth to the young mouths that consume it…
Elder Flower Punch aka Hyldeblomstsaft
Makes generous 2 quarts
- 40 Elder flower bud 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)
- 1 1/2 ounces citric acid
- 5 cinnamon sticks (optional)
Rinse flowers in cool water and dry gently between two towels.
Place flowers in a large heat-proof pitcher or bowl.
Set water over to boil.
Rinse lemons well and roll them across the counter to prime pulp and juice within; slice them into thin slices and lay the slices over the Elder flowers.
Pour the boiling water over the lemon slices and Elder flowers.
Add sugar or honey and stir until dissolved. Add citric acid and stir until dissolved. (To add a unique, earthy flavor, steep along with five cinnamon sticks.)
Cover and set in cool location for 24-36 hours.
Strain juice through a sieve coated with cheesecloth or a jelly strainer and allow to drip/rest.
Refrigerate or freeze in appropriate containers.
(HINT: This also 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!