Magical Elder

As I like to forage and share recipes, it occurs to me that I have used elder,  probably more than most other.

The uses seem almost limitless.

I have posts to share in the mushroom berry and flower foraging sections from this extremely useful  tree (which perhaps seems unfairly underated from a gardening point of view)

It occured to me as I began to type out a jew/jelly ear recipe that I will be using the wood over the next few days and that elder also has medicinal properties we have been using.

I was also reminded of my mothers love of fairies as a young girl growing up in the Irish countryside and her love of Yeats’ poetry so I have decided to dedicate a special blog post to the magical elderflower tree where I can share some recipes and creations (there will be limitless uses I am sure)

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elderflower cordial, elderberry syrup, elderberry tincture, dried elder berries for tea and jelly/jews ear fungus from elder trees.

 I am yet to make elderflower champagne, or a liqeuer as in st germaine, or elderberry wine. I am sure I will get around to it next year.

A Cicely Mary Barker illustration of the elder fairy in autumn from the V&A website

For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
from a world more full of weeping than you
can understand.
-Yeats’ The stolen child
I find an extra meaning in this verse in relation to my mothers experience of the world as literal stolen child who found comfort in her belief of faeries.
It said that Elder be protective and the tree comes alive at twighlight to watch unattended children in their room. Elder is said to be the Goddess tree providing a connection to all the other tree spirits and protection to anyone that would harm the faery or his friends.
There are more sinister connotations and translations, probably in part due to the poisonous nature of the tree and a religious superstition, particularly in Ireland, the poem -based on Irish Legend, is refering to a child who is beguiled away permanently to another realm, perhaps in death.
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Elder flowers and leaves around the time of midsummer

It is said in many cultures that if you stand under the elder on midsummers eve you will see the faery king and if you fall asleep there you may be transported permanently to the underworld.
There is a very long history of elder being associated with the mystical, ‘other’ world or realm of the dead. In Scotland this is said to be possible on ‘Samhain’ which is fast approaching.
Autumn is that poetic time of year when we are thankful for the abundance of harvest and vibrant colour of nature and when we become more reflective on death as the light and plants around begin fade and die back. In Celtic and Irish medieval tradition the year is measured in 2 halves the lighter half at Bealtaine, the darker half at Samhain and the new year began on Nov 1.

To me Elder seems synonymous with a message of transformation, change, and spiritual renewal at both Bealtaine and Samhain. It is not surprising considering its usefulness and abundance at these times that it be seen with reverence by our ancestors.

The first thing I ever made with elder was elderflower cordial,  I remember very clearly,  using about half as much sugar as any of the recipes stated and adding around half as many flowers again.

Most of the online ones were just too sweet for me, so taste as you go and adjust accordingly. I didnt add citric acid or too many lemons either.

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Elderflower cordial recipe

Pick a good bag full of just opened/opening flowers (30+ flower heads) and rinse them checking them over

I added 2 lemons and no more than 2lbs of sugar

Using a large pan I poured boiled then slightly cooled 3 pints of water over the sugar and added the lemon juice and rind

when colled to just warm I added the flowers if you do it when the water is still too hot the colour is not so great -the flowers brown

I left it over night and into the next day (24 hrs if you can) then strained iot through muslin.

Pour into sterilised bottles

You can also use the woody stems to make a bee hotel around this time of this year (bees are only usually around earlier on and this will provide a haven) The stems hollow out so easily that it is perfect for this.

Bee Hotel instructions

For a simple bee hotel use a large (2 l) plastic bottle bottle with the end trimmed off

hollow out your elder stems (extremely easy)

trim to the same depth as the bottle and pack them in tightly

hang or plce in the sunniest spot protected from the rain.

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Bees and insects pollinate the elder flowers and they swell becoming ripe plump elder berries later in the year

The little red stem attached to these contain cyanide and are what you need to avoid

It is always adisable to cook them first

Elderberry syrup

(you can add spices for flavouring and use honey instead of sugar)

you will likely need a couple of pounds to last, gather as many as you can

once de stemmed lightly crush with a masher

add around half the volume in water and simmer

mash again

dont boil (you will loose some of the potency and vit C)

strain through muslin or a seive squishing as much juice out as you can

measure and add 250g of brown sugar for every 500ml or an equal amount of honey

simmer gently till dissolved

pour into warm sterilised bottles

add to a hot drink (or hot toddy at the first signs of a cold) or a teaspoon a day

It is nice in sauces with game or drizzled over fruit and yogurt too! 😉

Elderberry tincture

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I have read that freezing the berries is quite effective at getting them off the stem although I havent tried this myself.

To use add a teaspoon to a hot mug of water or orange juice around 4 times a day at the first signs of a cold.

I also dehydrated berries in the dehydrator for use in teas, they are very good, I made some tea with dried elderberry and dried basil flowers that was wonderful (yes I know it sounds odd)

Lastly I have found jelly/jews ear fungi which grows on dead elder

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mmm youre thinking, aren’t you?

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Maybe they are faeries ears that they have outgrown, like baby teeth, and left on the stumps for us.

Incidentally the fungus got its name from ‘judas’ ear’ it is said elder is the tree that Judas escariot hung himself from.

I have made another post about these and a recipe you can find in ‘forage’ They go wonderfully in a mushroom soup or sauce for pasta.

You can also make little whistles though I am unsure myself regarding the toxicity of the wood and children using the whistles *regularly* though you can still make them 😉

Faery whistles

http://www.jonsbushcraft.com/elderwhistle.htm

Next year I aim to make elderflower champagne and a St germain type liqeuer and maybe elderberry wine I intend to have a go at using natural yeasts for fermenting wine.

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