“Of all the native trees of the British Isles, it is the Elder Tree which evokes our deepest affection. It is easy to be thankful for it for all its abundant herbal, magical and culinary gifts. The elder grows rapidly from any part, and so speaks to us of regeneration and the power of the life force.” (1)
The Elderberry Plant (Elder) has a rich and ubiquitous history. The Elder is mentioned in ancient medicinal texts, heirloom cookbooks, folklore, Shakespearian stories and even J.K. Rowling’s popular Harry Potter and the Elder Wand. As early as 400AD one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine, Hippocrates, often referred to this prolific plant as his ‘entire medicine chest’. From medicinal to mythology, the Elderberry Tree is top of the plant kingdom when it comes to superstition and diversity of uses for all its parts, including immune support.
What exactly is this mysterious magical Elderberry Plant? Its scientific name is Sambucus, a genus of flowering plants within the Adoxaceae family. The various species of Sambucus are commonly called elder or elderberry. Both the flowers and elderberries can be used to make wine or black elderberry syrup. Elderflower wine was said to be drunk at the Beltane celebrations and at Samhain which was consumed to promote hallucinations at the end of each harvest season. Throughout generations the Elderberry Plant has been considered valuable and known for its capability to restore and maintain good health. Let’s take a closer look…
MIDSUMMERS NIGHT, an elderberry delight!
The earliest tales praise the Elderberry Plants ability to ward off malevolent spirits, and to undo evil magic. This enchanted the fairy folk whom have a love for merrymaking, dance and music. With a strong foundation and hollow soft core, elder wood was constructed into mystical musical instruments from pipes to whistles for all to hear.
During the summer solstice an eve of fae magic and mischief takes place under the enchanting Elderberry Tree. This is the time of fire, when romance is in the air and a great celebration of new things to come. On this mystic night faeries dance in the moonlight sprinkling silver dust while smiling and whispering secrets in ears, as if to say, “come play now”.
If you want to find these legendary creatures, visit an Elderberry Tree on a warm midsummer’s eve. Listen closely for the Celtic fairy melody, but be careful not to fall asleep, because they may carry you off!
The mother of all elderberries unearthed
Folklore from Denmark, Germany and England once believed the Elderberry Plant was sacredly holding a vengeful, living spirit named Danish Hyldemoer (Elder-Mother). This elder guarding being became best known from a fairy tale by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The Elder-Mother is presented as a benign old woman who appears to a sick boy and shows him visions of foreign lands and his future life. But, was that only a dream?
All parts of the Elderberry Plant are considered prized and one must ask permission to take wood from the tree, otherwise a swift punishment will be released by the Elder-Mother. Don’t fret, the tree could be safely cut while chanting this rhyme:
"Old girl, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when I grow into a tree."
If you do need to cut yourself some wood from the Elderberry Tree, approach with respect; ask first, and listen with an open heart. An attitude of gratitude and thanks to the Elderberry Tree is a positive act which all of nature responds well to.
ELDER WAND, The Wand of Destiny
In European history one of the earliest mentions is that of elderberry juice to increase resistance from illness and is associated with magic, written by German scholar, Conrad Von Megenberg (1309- 1374). Another reference is Shakespeare whom refers to the elderberry as a 'symbol of grief' in Cymbeline(1) and during medieval times, hedge cutters would avoid attacking the rampant growth of the Elderberry Plant. There is one whom the Elderberry does not threat...The Wizard. In the Harry Potter series, the Elder Wand played a pivotal role and the final book was nearly named ‘Harry Potter and the Elder Wand’before author J.K. Rowling decided on ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’.
The Elder Wand (or Wand of Destiny), a mysterious instrument, is said to be the most powerful wand that has ever existed and has enticed many wizards such as Harry Potter. The Elder Wand is able to perform feats of magic that would normally be impossible even for the most skilled wizards. Every detail of the Elder Wand hints at something unique or exceptional by a wandmaker’s standards. It measures 15 inches long, is made of elder wood from the Elderberry Plant and it contains a ‘Thestral’ (breed of winged horse) tail-hair core.
Harry Potter destroyed the Elder Wand in an attempt to protect himself, Dumbledore and others from its magnificent power. If one day you venture out to find this majestic wand, be aware that the Elder Wand makes its own destiny, so it may find you first.
Revered for its exceptional healing gifts, it is the Elderberry Plant that continues to enchant human’s century after century. From Harry Potter’s Elder Wand to Shakespeare’s words, our love of the Elderberry speaks of ancient connections. There is a bounty of lore and legend associating the black elderberry with its reverted health benefits. This natural potion of power has provided immune support for past generations and it will continue to provide immune support for many generations to come.
Poem and Illustration by
Cecily Mary Barker
English artist and poetess
Glennie K. "The Spirit of the Elder Tree". Accessed 16 June 2020
Hersholt, Jean. “The Elder-Tree Mother.” A translation of Hans Christian Andersen's "Hyldemoer". Accessed 16 June 2020
Harry Potter Wiki. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”. Accessed 16 June 2020
Originally published on Pottermore. “Everything we know about the Elder Wand.” Accessed 16 June 2020
Rackman, Arthur. “The Elder Mother Tree, 1932”. Displayed in the Victora and Albert Museum.