Listen to your Elders

Franz Eugen Koehler, Koehlers Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen und kurz erläuterndem Texte(1883-1914), Gera - Germany

Franz Eugen Koehler, Koehlers Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen und kurz erläuterndem Texte(1883-1914), Gera - Germany

My grandmother always used to say, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,". I didn't give her words much regard growing up, but as I get older, I am beginning to see the wisdom in this old adage.

Especially during cold and flu season.

Which, if you're nestled in the Willamette Valley like we are, is in full swing! Students of all ages are packed into small, poorly-ventilated classrooms where germs a-plenty replicate at alarming rates. Remember that meningitis outbreak at the U of O a couple years back? Yikes.  No thank you, please.

When I think about herbal allies to prevent picking up a winter bug, delicious elderberries come to mind. Ever-prolific on almost every continent, practitioners of folk medicine have been using them for hundreds (if not thousands) of years! We have them in our apothecary for just $1.47 per ounce. Certified organic, as always.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Nice try Monty Python, but that is hardly an insult. I mean, yeah, elderberries do smell a little funky, but if you can cook broccoli or eat fancy cheese, then you'll have no problem with elderberries. In the same way that garlic breath may be a smooch-deterrent for those who are ignorant of its amazing health benefits (garlic and onion paste straight up kills MRSA), the pungent scent of elderberry syrup simmering on the stove will grow on you faster than you can say Sambucus nigra!

Just in time for Halloween, here's a little of the witchy western folklore behind the use of elderberries. Call this festive superstition, call it white people's indigenous wisdom, but either way there is a plethora of old wives' tales from the British Isles, Europe, and Russia about the elder tree, with much of the focus on cultivating a reciprocal relationship with the plant.

Andersen's Fairytales, Hans Christian Andersen, Published by Grosset & Dunlap (1945), Illustrated by Arthur Szyk

Andersen's Fairytales, Hans Christian Andersen, Published by Grosset & Dunlap (1945), Illustrated by Arthur Szyk

 

"If an elder tree was cut down, a spirit known as the Elder Mother would be released and take her revenge. The tree could only safely be cut while chanting a rhyme to the Elder Mother.

The Elder Mother is thought to be the guardian of the elder trees, and it was said, until recent times in various parts of England and Scandinavia that to take wood from the elder tree one would have to ask the Elder Mother first, or else ill luck would befall the woodsman.

The woodsman would have to ask the Elder Mother like so:

'Old girl, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when I grow into a tree.' "

- Burne, Charlotte Sophia (2003) Handbook of Folklore, Kessinger Publishing

 

A tale from Northamptonshire tells of man who cut a stick from an elder, and saw that the tree was bleeding. Later he meets the local witch and sees that she has a bloodied bandage on her arm.  Now that's taking "you are what you eat," to a whole other level. Want to learn more about the magic and folklore of elder? The Practical Herbalist has an awesome blog post titled Elderberry History, Folklore, Myth and Magic.

Below you'll find our recipe for elderberry syrup, just a spoonful each morning will help keep colds and flu's away. You can also experiment with elderberry jams, wines, and more!