Sunday, October 04, 2015

Elder / Hyld

Sambucus nigra

Elder or elderberry is native to most of Europe, northwest Africa and southwest Asia. It is commonly named elder or elderberry, but has got many other names like Black elder, European elder/elderberry, Elder Bush etc. The Latin Sambucus is a Greek word for instrument, and nigra means black in Latin, black like the elder berries. It grows in a variety of conditions , it stands shadow, frost, salt and wind well. The leaves and the bark contain bitter substances, but not as much as the related red-berried elder. The whole elder bush except the flowers and the berries is poisonous.

The plant was possibly introduced to Denmark in prehistoric time. It is common all over the country, but grows especially at houses, in fences, edge of woods, as underwood etc. It has been in Denmark since Ertebøllekulturen, a Stone Age culture between 5000-3000 B.C.. About 300 years ago the elder grew in big numbers all over the Danish country, especially in villages, upon church yards, at fences, in cabbage gardens and in hop gardens etc.The ripe berries are very sought after by birds, and today the elder has spread by the help of birds up to the northern part of Sweden and in Norway up to the Polar circle.

Elderberry is an old medicinal plant. Also prehistoric people, the Egypts, the Greeks, the Romans used the elder as a medicinal plant. Dekokt from the flowers was supposed to be antipyretic and diaforetic, and the berries were used to relieve cold and flue. The leaves, flowers, branches, roots, bark, berries were used to heal many diseases like earache, headache, deafness, boils, indigestions, heart pain etc.


But also in the kitchen is elderberry good. The flowers are used in the popular elderberry-drink, and they taste well when dipped in a thin pastry, fried and sprinkled with sugar. The berries are used in juice and soups. They have a very high content of A- and C vitamin. Several things: tea from the dried flowers; wine and snaps of berries and flowers; put the berries in sugar and eat them like red-currants; the green berries in vinegar and sugar make fine capers. The flowers have also been used in perfume.

If you rub elder-leaves against your skin it is said to keep mosquitos away, or if you carry a fresh branch or stand under an elder-bush! The berries should have the same effect, and you can use them as an insect repellant, if you like the colour purple!

The Garden:
Some gardeners use a strong elder extract as a means against plant diseases. It is considered effective especially against fungal diseases in fruit trees and  against aphids. It is also good as an addition in the compost heap and active  against caterpillars in seed plants. 

Poisonous substance:
All kinds of Sambucus contain a poisonous substance:Samburigin (cyanoglykocid) in leaves and in the unripe fruits. The druehyld is the most poisonous but its poisonous effect is limited to stomachache. In the past the sambucus was used  as a vomiting means . The seeds in all sambucus contain  a resin which gives dizziness and is diuretic , but the resin is destroyed by cooking.

The elder was called the Poor Man's Tree, the elder had no homestead - and yet it belonged everywhere.

Below material from V.J.Brøndegaards Danish work "Folk og Flora" bd. 4

Use of elder branches, wood, marrow:
The elder was the favourite tree of all foresters, it was used as hedgerows around the new-planted woods. In Jutland, especially in West Jutland elder was planted as hedgerows in the fields and around the dunghill in order to give shadow, so the sun did not dry out the power of the manure.
Branches were used for wicket sticks and for fuel. The wood was used to make spoons, shoe plugs pipe tubes, truncheons, spinning wheels, reels, looms, yarn reels, rules, meter rules, handles, fishing needles, and young shots were used for enemas. In Svendborg (Funen) was found a spoon from the 1200-1300s, made of elder wood.The wood gave good charcoal and from the ashes was made potash.
Furniture made of elder wood  did not get worm-eaten
People used a "blowing pipe", (made from a stick where the marrow was removed) to blow the fire in the morning on the embers in the fireplace.
The fodder for the bees was placed in an out-marrowed elder stick. Upon the island Agersø people smoked herring with green leaves of elder or ash. The marrow was also used for polishing optic lenses and for electrical experiments.

Use of elder berry, leaves, flowers:
The juice was commonly used, and no farmer's wife or house wife did not know how to cook the berries or have som house depot in case of need.
People went out in the countryside with baskets, gathering berries for sale, they were sold in shops and on market places for the juice making. (1875)  Upon Copenhagen's marketplace was in 1967 sold 160.380 kilo elderberries
From the berries was also made a snaps (1890).In july 1603 the Danish queen was delivered elder flowers, strawberries and red roses for having made akvavite.
Juice and sugar in snaps gave a  "redwine-toddy". Elder tea was made from dried flowers. Old people drank each night a cup of elder tea in order to keep themselves healthy. The tea was sweetened with syrup. It might be spiced with cinnamon, mint or yarrow. In winter season elder tea was often used instead of coffee (1880-90). The coffee was sweetened with elderberry syrup.
The flowers gave a spiced elder vine. Apples and pears get a taste like muscatelwine if they for some time have been placed among elder flowers.The fruits gave an elder wine and the seeds an oil (ab. 1800).
Elder-puré = cooked juice + honey on bread instead of butter (1809) . The berries were dried in the oven or in the sun and saved for elderberry soup. Young green leaves were used in cabbage soup and omelet (1920) Dried or sugar-cooked elderberries = currants. Green pickled berries were used as  capers. The flowers were baked in the panncakes.

Elder-guns: the marrow was removed or being burnt out with a thin iron stick so a piece of a branch made a pipe Small bullets made of paper, yarn, potatopieces, or marrow were pressed down with a loading-stick into the pipe in the opening.
Some boys made very long elder guns. A farmer at the island Fanø paid a boy 4 skilling to shoot against the priest while he was preaching in the church, but the boy hit the dove in the sounding board above his head instead.

Folk Medicine
Henrik Harpestræng ab. 1300: Elder gives vomit. Cooked leaves or oil from elder heal mange and blisters - open and clean wounds, ease earache.
1400s: bark and berries crushed with vinegar used as a cover for head pain, the juice from the seeds to drip in the ear against deafness and earache. Beer decoct from bark against constipation, the juice from the root against dropsy. 
Christian Pedersen 1533: destilled flower-water was a part of an advice against headache,  flowers or leaves cooked in beer for spleen disease, 
Henrik Smid 1546 the cooked berry juice was a good antidote and was used against inner swellings  and all poisonous fluids which came with the sweat. 
Simon Paulli 1648:  linen with destilled elder-water or a decoct of a red cow's milch to put upon the skin disease erysipelas (red skin). 

The elder bark, buds, flowers and berries were specified in the Pharmacopoeia  in 1772, the berries up till 1948.

The elder syrup was one of the farmers most popular universal means (except snaps) ( 1770).
Elder puré cooked with berry juice + honey works sudorific, dissolving, laxative etc.
No farmer must forget to have this medicin, which he can easily make himself. (1800)
Where someone has an elder and a beehive in the garden the doctor need not to come.
The elder was like a home pharmacy to the farmer.

The physician Th Bartolin 1616-80 adviced the pesasants to drink a decoct from  young elder leaves against dropsy..
The peasants drank ( 1798) the juice from the fresh root.
Oil mixed with elder in wine was used against fatigue.
Elder flowers were a part of a means against blatterstone (1720).
The bark eased all stomach ulcers.
Smoke from henbane-seeds was lead through an elder-stick to the bad tooth.
A spice-bag with dried elder flowers upon the cheek. 
Cure against malaria:
Elder tea with camphor drops..
The patient had to eat the first elder spring-shots of the year.
Tea from the flowers counteracts fever attacks.(1800)
Elder tea with egg yolk is a good sweating cure against fever diseases. 
Various diseases:
Elder tea with honey eases cough and pain in the breast.
People bathed running eyes with a milch decoct from the flowers.
Poultice against haemorroids ,  flowers soaked in vinegar against thick knees.
A balm of fresh flowers mixed in lard or vaseline bound upon scalding or burns (ab. 1800) - or upon chronic wounds. It was a good cure to bath pimples with elder-flower water added rum or brandy.
Tea from elder flowers mixed with lard was a fine beauty means in 1900.
Green elder leaves against swellings, abscesses, felon, (the upperside of the leaves draws out the inflammation, the underside heals the wound.) 
Adderbite:  bind elder leaves and mustard upon the bite.
A balm of the green middle bark cooked or fried with thick cream and rubbed or put upon open wounds or impetigo, throat-abscesses and excema on children's head, on their felon and ringworm
Smear oatmeal and goose-shit upon swelling after forgiftning. and with swine-lard upon bone-infection. A wise man blew through an elder stick upon ringworm

Elder leaves were used against the horse-jaundice and elder tea against horse-hives. Elder syrup was used against cattle plague (1745) . A good cure was to bath the cow's teeth, mouth and tongue with tea of elder and camomile flower and sage, added honey and saltpeter (1750). Elder + butter healed wounds and fissures on the cow's udder.
Berry juice was the ingredience in a cake for sheep's cough (1632) . Dried and crushed berries with salt against the sheep's liver fluke and tea of elder leaves for lamb with tetanus.
Chicken could get sick by eating the green berries.

In most parts of Denmark people put the new leaves and/or the debarked branches down in the passages of the moles. The moles would flee because they didn't like the smell. (1800)
In harvest-time the farmer put a green elder branch on each corner of the barn in order to keep mice and rats away from the corn.
The crickets could not survive in a room  warmed up by elder wood (1761) - and the smoke from fresh leaves and branches upon a brazier drove them out. .
People put elder leaves in their  button-holes to keep away the mosquitoes. Concentrated elderwater was recommended for rubbing the skin against mosquitoes (1907).
Elder branches put by the entrance of the house drove away flies from house and stable. Leaves were spread upon the floor against bedbugs and put into the bed as a protection against pests. 
Elder juice mixed with lard = a balm which protected the horse against insects. The top of the branches were the part of a decoct which was used to bath the cattle against flies.
The elder was a popular bush by the living house because it kept away moths . Little bags with dried flowers put among the clothes could drive away moths. (1880)

Barrels and vessels which smelled moldy had to be rubbed with a handfull of fresh-plucked leaves from elder or blackcurrants. (1880)
If the milch in the summer-time got a bluestained surface the vessel had to be rubbed inside with green elder leaves.

Elder branches and leaves give a green/brown colour,especially for saddles. The bark dyes bismuth-treated wool bluegrey, the linen stained with alum and cooked with the berries and verdigris gets yellowbrown. The berry juice makes paper purple and snaps reddish or bloodred.


If an elder grows up by the house it means good luck.
If an elder is blooming twice in a year or in winter it is an omen that a death will happen in the owner's family
When the elder berries are ripening the chicken begin to drop their feathers.
If the elderflowers send out an extraordinary strong scent it  will be rain or thunder.
When the cat tears the elder tree it will be rain. 

There are many alike prophecies about the elder.tree growing by a church. When it is so big that it is possible to bind a horse by the tree a king will arrrive upon a white horse. He will bind the horse by the elder tree and go into the church. Or:  Two kings will meet and bind their horses by the elder tree. They have come to  negotiate about peace.
King Magnus and his men are sleeping under the elder tree but if Denmark is in need they will wake up and come to rescue the country.

Legends and myths.
The elder is often gnarled and crippled. It was said that Judas Iscariot hang himself in the elder tree. Upon the elder grows the fungus Jew's ear (In Denmark called Judasøre)
An elder with branches like human fingers like the fingers of a murderer grew up from the grave of a  a murdered shepherdess in a village south of the town Tønder (Jutland).The tree was removed in 1930. An elder upon Helnæs (Funen) could not be removed. It grew up again. According to a legend a child was killed and buried here.There was supposedly a treasure under an elder by the village Tanderup (island Samsoe). People had seen light there in the night. East of the island Omø people can see a green elder on the bottom of the sea in clear weather.

A Jutland saying: "No man can live where the elder cannot grow."
It was a common belief that an elder must not be removed or destroyed. Then bad luck would really hit the family, but they could bring the bad luck to and end by wetting the stub with milch. This was done even as late as 1924 in a village at Zealand.
If  a man removed an elder without first having said a prayer he would have bad luck with his domestic animals. It was considered  a neccesity that an elder bush grew upon each giant grave hill. No one can say why but this rule was followed in many places all over the country. It was dangerous to remove it from the hill. After having removed an elder tree upon a giant grave hill in a village on Funen and brought it home as fuel, the owner's farm was harrassed by ghosts and his cattle died . So he brought the elder root back to the hill and planted it.
In a farm in North Jutland the chicken were bewitched and could not lay eggs. A wise man let cut two elder sticks which he marked in a certain way and placed as a cross under the roof of the hen house - This helped.
The farmer planted the elder outside the stable door and hoped thereby  to prevent the witches to reign inside.

Sickness placed inside the elder.
It was considered possible to place a sickness inside the tree by the help of a nail.. A wise man put in this way  the sickness of a boy (rakitis) into the elder tree. Still in 1885 were used warnings against coming close to a lonely placed elder tree, which might have been implanted with sickness.
"He who draws out the nail gets the disease". said people. This was still a belief in 1937 ( Schleswig).
Children who were playing near the elder were warned not to remove plugs from the tree.
A wise man from Funen  made a cut in a branch for each wort of a patient and rubbed blood from the patient into the cuts  In this way the man got rid of 37 worts.
People had to take care not to come close or damage certain elder trees since they risced to get the sickness which had been put into them. It was also dangerous just to urinate on the tree.
A wise woman in the village Asminderød lead the patient through an opening made of together-bound elder branches.

An advice from the superstition section: "Thursday evening after sunset, cut nail-pieces from hands and feet, rub them in a cloth from the patient's shirt and put them in a quill pen , which is stuck the same evening in a one year elder shot ,which is stuck into the earth where three field-borders meet, while saying the words: "Now my gout is buried and dead like God's son was buried without pain - (he crosses himself three times) - Amen!" This is a story from the town Kolding, Jutland.
A child with rakitis must stand in a digged hole under an elder while a wise woman treats him,  some of the out-digged soil is poured over his head. (Bakkebølle,Zealand).Or the child's clothes were put into the hole and milch from a darkred cow. poured over it. Next morning the child had to put on the clothes.

An often mentioned advice against toothache was to cut the tooth into blood with a splint of elder and put the splint back under the bark. If the bark and the wood grew together the toothache would disappear, but it all had to happen in secrecy.
An elder in a wise wife's garden was still in the garden long after her death. No one dared to remove it in fear of getting a toothache or some other disease

Bark of elder and 8 other trees put on snaps, which is being hid under the elder-roots - but also been drunk.

The Elder people 
In the old days people believed that hyldefolk (the elder-people) lived at the foot of the elder bush. They called out for people in moonlit summer nights, and if you went to sleep under the elder, you would be "elder-shot", spellbound and mad. People also thought that the strong aroma of the elder could scare away trolls and other evil creatures. It was said that the goddess Freja lived in the elderberry bush; she protected people from evil, therefore it was necessary to care take care of the elder bush; if you cut down the elder outside your house without planting a new one, then all kinds of misfortune would hit you
People might get sick by felling an old elder which might grow upon the home of the underearth people (1798)
As far as the shadows of the elder reach is the home of the unearthly.
There were seen small pixies under an elder tree at Femø island  in 1860. The elder wife lived in giant hills or under the elder trees.The elder people spread sand and swept nicely around the elder tree in the garden by Ørslevkloster in North Jutland.
By an old elder the horses became frightened in the evening. In this place the Black Wife was seen.
People had great respect for an elder bush by a house near Roskilde: Strange sounds were heard from it and two creatures were seen nearby.
A sorcerer said: As long as the elder gives shadow to the bedchamber window there will not be born disfigured children in the house.
It was said that one could learn to do magic under an elder tree.

Elder Mother /Hyldemor
                                                                               In a German story from 1691 about heathen religion a priest from Åbenrå(Jutland)  told that he in his younger days (ab. 1670) often had seen people kneel and bare their heads and say a prayer with folded hands by the elder tree. They wanted to be allowed to fell "Madame Elder" and said: "Give me some of your wood, then I shall give you some of it back when it grows in the forest".
This precaution is known from many later records: People must not make furniture or tools from the elder,  the elder was Elder Mother's property. Before it was removed they had to promise to plant a new elder, and what had not been used from the elder had to be digged down under the new elder in order to reconcile it.
Below an elder people could be hit by the elder people ("elder shot", 1700) People said: " He has been under an elder" = he was mad or intoxicated. .
The peasants dared not cut the elder until they had asked for permission and then they spit three times as if they would drive away the evil trolls (1772).
In warm moonlit nights the spirit of the elder people cries on people and they must not answer for then the spirit would get power over them.
In 1757 it was told that people planted elder everywhere. This was a kind of heathen ancient rest of a religion. The almue worshipped the goddess Hikti (still in 1819). The Elder Mother is mentioned, she took revenge of all damage. It was told about a man who suddenly died that he had felled an elder. This was still a talk among people in Nyboder ( Copenhagen) in 1940.

In Denmark elder is named hyld, and the goddess Freja was later known as hyldemor.
H.C. Andersen wrote a lovely fairy tale "Hyldemor": (The Elder Tree Mother)

Summer Elder (Sambucus ebulus)
A young speciman of the common elder must not be mistaken for the close related summer elder which differs by having heavy, cringing rootstocks and almost white or light reddish flowers. Summer elder is also an old medicinal plant with healing qualities, but it requires accurate dosing in order to avoid poisonings. It is therefore not recommended for use.

text and photo: grethe bachmann

No comments: