Axis Mundi
The beginning of a circle is also its end. Not I, but the world says it: all is one. And yet everything comes in season.
- Heraklietos of Ephesos

Herbs ~ Elder

by Amethyst

Again this month I was wondering what herbe to write about, and had a drink while thinking about it. As I was drinking Elderflower Cordial at the time, it didn’t take me long to do some research and find out that Elder is suitable for Midsummer rituals.


Latin Name:  Sambucus nigra
Planet:  Venus
Celtic Tree:  Nov 25 – Dec 23
Element:  Water
Gender:  Feminine
Deity:  The Cailleach, Hel, Hela, Holda, Venus, Hilde, The White Lady, Hylde-Moer
Tarot:  Empress & Moon
Stone:  Jet
Birds:  Raven
Flower:  Dandelion
Colour:  Red
Magickal:  Herbe of Protection, Magickal Herbe & Funereal Herbe
Folk Names:  Tree of Faeries, Old Gal, Pipe Tree and Lady Ellhorn, Judas Tree among others
Parts used:  Roots, bark, young shoots, leaves, flowers and fruit.


Among those herbes with a rich history of lore, the elder stands as the equivalent of a high priestess.  There is extensive material about this familiar shrub.

The name Elder, is probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon word 'Aeld', meaning fire.  Another old name for Elder is Ellhorn, hinting at the use of hollowed Elder branches as a furnace.  Old names like Holler, Hylder, Hyllantree, and the German word Holunder all refer to an ancient vegetation Goddess, Hylde Moer, as she was known in Denmark.  Once upon a time, the Elder-tree was considered sacred to this Goddess, and the tree's gifts were regarded as her blessings.  It was commonly believed that Elders were inhabited by a tree dryad who was thought to represent the soul of the tree or sometimes was seen as an aspect of the Goddess herself.  If treated well and honoured appropriately, the dryad was a most benevolent spirit that blessed and protected the people who cared for it. Thus, Elders were often planted around the house and on the farm where they served as a shrine to the Goddess whose protective powers could be invoked by making prayers and offerings to the tree.  An Elder grove must be treated as holy ground.

In the Celtic Tree Calendar, Elder is the thirteenth month November 25th to December 23rd, and is also the thirteenth consonant of the Ogham alphabet.

Ruis [R]

Elder is one of the best known trees of both older and modern civilizations.  Early Christians believed the Elder provided the wood for Christ's execution, and this is how the Elder got stuck with the reputation of association with death and darkness.  An association it didn't deserve, I might add.  I think just about every English speaking person has heard of Elderberry Wine. (The wine used in "Arsenic and Old Lace" was Elderberry).

Among Elder’s best known virtues, it is believed to protect and cleanse against all evils and dark magick.  In this regard it is an excellent funeral herb.  Many cultures, separated by thousands of kilometres, are found to be consistent with their beliefs in Elder’s abilities.

Over two thousand years ago Pliny used hollow Elder twigs as a pan pipe.  Modern custom weaves Elder's Magick into the rites of Midsummer's Eve.  An Elder grove is considered an ideal place for moving into the realm of the Fae.  For those wishing to see the Devas on this eve, Elder flowers can be used in the ritual cup, or Elderberry wine may be used in the cup.  Dried Elder flowers are good fixatives when making loose, dry incense.  They hold herbal oils well and can empower rites.

Elder branches can be fashioned into pentagrams to hang as protection above your altar, or anywhere in the home. The Elder often used in rites of death and dying to protect the loved one during transport to the Otherworld.

Medicinal properties:

Traditionally all parts of Elder are useful medicinally.  The berries and the leaves are both rich in vitamin C.  The leaves can be made into ear drops to treat pain and inflammation.  The flowers make a tea that is good for treating coughs and irritable throats, as well as being made into a skin cleanser and lotion.  The bark of the new small twigs can be made into a laxative.  The bark, roots, berries and leaves can all be used as a dye.  And the berries are good for making jam, wine, vinegar, and syrups.

Please NoteSambucus canadensis (American Elder), which closely resembles Sambucus nigra, can be used exactly the same magickally, but the fresh roots are extremely poisonous and can cause death if ingested.

AND if you have access to an Elder tree, follow this link to a variety of recipes you can make:

a compendium of Herbal Magick by Paul Beyerl


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