It is a common belief that trees have spirits. In the case of elder trees that spirit is an old woman, frail and bent over, aided by a cane cut from an elder branch. Rarely glimpsed by humans, her presence is customarily acknowledged by doffing one’s hat when passing by an elder tree. Her spirit resides in all of them, infusing each tree with life and power.
Occasionally, the old woman may be spotted in the spring when the trees are bedecked with lacy white flowers, or later in autumn when plump black berries adorn the branches. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of her hobbling along beneath a harvest moon, her shawl a lacy white covering, the cap on her head as black as the elder tree’s ripe berries.
It’s whispered that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an elder tree — perhaps why it is considered unlucky to use the wood for any purpose. A notable exception to this rule is the crafting of a magic wand or similar artifact. Ideally to kill a vampire, the stake should be whittled from the trunk of an elder sapling.
A few things you should never do:
Never shore up a house with timbers from an elder tree for it will bring ill fortune. Furniture crafted from elder tree wood will warp and collapse, and a baby placed in a cradle of elder wood will sicken and never thrive.
If, however, the wood from an elder tree is the only material available, the Old Lady’s power can neutralized with the following plea:
“Old Lady of the Elder Trees, please give me some of your wood, and when I grow into a tree you may have some of mine.”
I find it curious that someone depicted as being so old and frail can wreak such awful havoc. It’s also interesting to note that elder tree leaves and berries are commonly used in teas and medicines for wellness. While the spirit of the tree might have mischief in mind, the fruit, flowers and leaves are often beneficial for health.
Have you ever tried any recipes or teas that use elder tree flowers or berries? Are there any wellness teas you like?