In the Garden
Common Elder (Sambucus canadensis)
*Also known as American elderberry
Black Elder (S. nigra)
*Also known as European elder, lady elder, and a plethora of other names
Growing five to twelve feet tall and wide, the common elder is a garden plant that is also found in fields and meadows. The European elder can reach eight to twenty feet tall and wide. Both elders have oval, toothed leaves. Their small white flowers grow in large flattened clusters that can be ten inches wide. The flowers give way to clusters of round, bluish-black berries that ripen in late summer or early autumn. The common elder flowers have a lemon-like scent, while the black elder flowers smell musky.
The roots, stems, and leaves of elder are toxic. Although tart, the ripe, cooked berries are edible and often used to make jam and wine. Elderberries have a long history of use and have been found in excavations of Stone Age sites. Elderflowers are also edible and used for tea as well as to make wine.
In Denmark it was believed that standing under an elder on Midsummer’s Eve allowed a person to see the fairy king and his entourage. Likewise in England, adding elderflowers to the Midsummer’s Eve bonfire allowed people to see fairies and nature devas. Growing elder in the garden invites fairies and nature spirits, who are said to like swinging and playing in the branches.
Combine elderflowers and Saint John’s wort flowers to add power to spells. If you are concerned about hexes or dark magic, hang elderflowers over your altar. As you do this, say three times:
Lady Elder, powerful tree; I call to you, please aid me. Keep at bay, those who may do harm; make these flowers a powerful charm.
Elderflowers can be used as an offering in ritual, and sprinkling an infusion cleanses an area before ritual or magic work. Associated with death and funerals, burying elderflowers with the deceased or sprinkling them on the grave aids a loved one’s passage into the otherworld.
Elder is associated with all the elements but especially water. Its astrological influence comes from Mercury and Venus. This tree is associated with fairies, and the following deities: Bertha, Boann, Cailleach Bheur, the Dagda, Danu, Freya, Freyr, Gaia, Holle, Rhea, Venus, and Vulcan.
Figure 18. Elder is associated with the ogham Ruis (left) and the rune Fehu (right).