By: Sasha de Beausset, B.A., M.Sc.
For millennia and across most geographies people have attributed the elder tree with health and supernatural properties.
Elderberries and elderflowers have been used in home remedies for the flu, stomach aches, and pain in the Americas, Europe and China, in sauces and breads for an enjoyable meal in Central Europe, and more recently in spirits and cocktails around the world.1Flaws, Bob (1994). Chinese Medicinal Wines & Elixirs. Blue Poppy Enterprises, Inc. https://books.google.com.gt/books/about/Chinese_Medicinal_Wines_Elixirs.html?id=QjpY7BkOBQ8C&redir_esc=y 2The Herb Society of America (2013). Elderberry: Essential Guide. The Herb Society of America: Kirtland. http://www.herbsociety.org/file_download/inline/a54e481a-e368-4414-af68-2e3d42bc0bec.
The Magical Properties of the Elder Tree
In addition to providing sustenance and health benefits, parts of the elder tree were well known for their powerful magical properties and effectiveness for warding off witches, warlocks, and evil spirits in the home.3Munson, Jen (2016). “Consider warding off witches, monsters with these Spooktacular herbs this Halloween”. News Herald Ohio. https://www.news-herald.com/news/ohio/consider-warding-off-witches-monsters-with-these-spooktacular-herbs-this/article_4d227601-da37-5b7d-a474-4d1c84271016.html
In one Northern European tradition prominent in the Middle Ages, people planted the elder tree near their home as protection from evil spirits. It was believed that the Norse mother of the good fairies lived in the elder tree roots.4Leyel, Hilda; Hartley, Olga (2004). The Gentle Art of Cookery. Kegan Paul: Abingdon. https://books.google.com.gt/books?id=0NDFBQAAQBAJ&pg=PT201&lpg=PT201&dq=warding+off+witches+with+elderberry&source=bl&ots=ht-8xMgeor&sig=64Q4I9I958rS4-VM4p8DqM8DuU4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiM9MmNiazeAhXR_qQKHZgDAfE4ChDoATAJegQIABAB#v=onepage&q=warding%20off%20witches%20with%20elderberry&f=false
If one cuts a part of the elder tree without chanting the proper phrase to the Elder Mother (“Old Gal, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine, when I grow into a tree”), evil may come one’s way.5Trevelyan, M. (1909). Folk-lore and folk-stories of Wales. Digitized by the University of Michigan. Retrieved from: https://archive.org/details/afl2317.0001.001.umich.edu/page/n5
However, if one properly cuts the branches of the elder tree, by some traditions, one can also use its leaves to deter evil spirits and witches from entering one’s home, or deter them by making the mark of the cross with elderberry juice on the hearth of one’s home.3Munson, Jen (2016). “Consider warding off witches, monsters with these Spooktacular herbs this Halloween”. News Herald Ohio. https://www.news-herald.com/news/ohio/consider-warding-off-witches-monsters-with-these-spooktacular-herbs-this/article_4d227601-da37-5b7d-a474-4d1c84271016.html 5Trevelyan, M. (1909). Folk-lore and folk-stories of Wales. Digitized by the University of Michigan. Retrieved from: https://archive.org/details/afl2317.0001.001.umich.edu/page/n5
How to Protect Your Home from Witches with the Elder
According to the seventeenth-century herbalists, branches of the elder tree should be collected during the day on the last day of April. It was dangerous to collect them at night as, paradoxically, the trees tended to be gathering places for witches.6Carr, Anne (1987). Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Rodale Press: Pennsylvania. https://books.google.com.gt/books?id=MA5hDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA178&lpg=PA178&dq=warding+off+witches+with+elderberry&source=bl&ots=HfbTduilJA&sig=7nikzRoIWxs9GOWoDbE6YX8WAs8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiM9MmNiazeAhXR_qQKHZgDAfE4ChDoATAHegQIARAB#v=onepage&q=warding%20off%20witches%20with%20elderberry&f=false Similar to the medieval tradition, the leaves and branches should be placed on the door and in windows to prevent evil from entering the home.
Creating a wreath from the elder tree, too, will keep witches, warlocks and evil spirits out of the home. Making a homemade wreath is not difficult.
- 25-30 elder tree branches 12 to 15 inches long (don’t forget to ask permission from the Elder Mother before cutting them), ideally cut on the last day of April.
- Other herbs and branches, if you like.
- Floral clippers
- 12-in metal wreath form or wood form
- Floral wire
- Separate the elder branches with or without berries or elderflowers
- Clip the stems so that there are about 2 inches before the leaves start.
- Secure the end of first branch onto the middle bar of the wreath form or onto any part of the wood form. Continue securing the branch around the metal wreath with floral wire.
- Repeat the technique until the wreath appears full.
- Tie a ribbon of the color of your choice at the top to hang the wreath on your door.
- Enjoy the safety from witches, warlocks, and other evil beings!