Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Elderberry Folklore and Magical Uses

With colds, the flu, and COVID-19, elderberry syrup has made a lot of appearances in various “crunchy” and DIY blogs. Elderberry is touted as an herbal “medicine chest” — even Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder had a hard time overstating the herb’s value. It’s said to improve allergies, inflammation, sinus problems, and pain, and, with prompt use, shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms.

Elderberries and syrup.

That’s not all elderberry is used for, though. This tree, with its white flowers and dark, shiny berries, has a lot of folklore and a long history of magical use behind it.

Elder Magical Uses and Folklore

The elder tree is believed to house a spirit with the power to help or harm. In Denmark, it is Hylde Moer. Elsewhere, it was dryads, or simply the Old Lady of the Elder tree.

Taking any of the tree’s gifts has to be done with permission. If permission is granted, they have the power to heal and protect. If it isn’t, they have the power to harm. One charm for cutting elder wood goes:

“Old Lady of the Elder Tree,
Let me have some of your wood,
And, when I am a tree,
You may have some of mine.”

In southern Italy, the wood is used to drive out evil, and protect against thieves and serpents.

In Germany, hanging elder branches in a home on Walpurgisnacht protects from evil.

The spongy centers of elder branches are soaked in oil and used as a kind of lamp wick to reveal all of the witches in an area.

In England, carrying an elder stick or cross made of elder wood was said to protect from rheumatism.

Building a cradle from elder wood is a bad idea, for spirits with pinch and poke any child that sleeps in it.

It’s considered a very bad idea to burn elder wood. In Ireland, it was believed that burning elder would would make you see the devil in the flames. Part of the Wiccan Rede goes as follows:

“Elder be the Lady’s tree. Burn it not, or cursed be.”

(Considering the cyanide content of uncured fruitwoods, and the fact that hydrogen cyanide is liberated by heat, this is probably very good advice!)

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The scent of elder flowers is said to be narcotic in nature. Sleeping under an elder tree would cause the sleeper to dream of the fairy realm, or else not wake up at all.

Magically, carrying elder wood, leaves, twigs, or berries is said to protect you from harm, while hanging elder branches over doors and windows of a building protects its occupants.

Elder is associated with death and rebirth — all parts of the plant are toxic (except the ripe, cooked berries), and elder grows quickly from cuttings.

Elder wood is used for wands, and for making instruments whose music is said to be favored by spirits.

In some situations, elder is used as a commanding herb.

Using Elder

All parts of the plant produce cyanogenic glycosides, hence all of the old admonitions against the improper use of elder. The berries are used medicinally, but that’s only after proper preparation.

Magically, elder is a powerful tree — which stands to reason, since the plant itself contains the power to heal and kill. Any tree should be asked for permission before gathering its products, but that goes double for elder. From what I have read, elder wood should be avoided for mundane purposes, and its use should be restricted to magical tools.

 

Elder has gotten a lot of press lately because of its use as a remedy for respiratory illness, but there’s only so much it can do. It can help with sinus problems, inflammation, and shorten cold and flu symptoms, but the best way to keep from getting sick is still to eat well, rest well, stay hydrated, and stay away from people.

life, Plants and Herbs

You Can’t Erase People.

Every fall, I drag my S.O. out for what has become a small, but important, tradition for us: Persimmon Quest.

I’d never had a persimmon before, until I moved to California to live with my then-boyfriend on his family’s pomegranate orchard. His mother brought a dozen Fuyu persimmons — squat, sweet, golden bundles of deliciousness. Ever since returning to the east coast, I’ve had a much harder time finding them. Most grocery stores in my area don’t even know what I’m asking for when I call to see if they have any, and there’s only one that carries them with any kind of reliability this time of year.

(All of this, despite the east coast to the midwest having its own, wild type of persimmon. However, like paw paw fruit, they’re not exactly easy to find for sale.)

Wild persimmons on a branch.

Persimmons have their magic properties, like any other thing. The tree is used for healing magic, and good luck, too. The fruit, however, has a very intriguing use in folk magic…

Changing sex.

Folklore holds that, if a girl wanted to be a boy, “all” she had to do was eat nine unripe persimmons. (“All” is in scare quotes because, if you’ve ever accidentally tasted an unripe astringent persimmon, you probably know how horrifying the idea of having to eat nine of them would be!)

This isn’t new magic. It’s old-school Alabama folklore. So, why do legislators seem to think that transgender people are a new idea? That the days they have such misplaced nostalgia for weren’t also populated by transgender people? Or do they not care, so long as they never have to confront the idea and can remain comfortably ignorant while others live in fear and pain?

(I think I know the answer.)

I am considered to be under the trans “umbrella,” though I don’t consider myself trans — I have no desire to transition, and I would not talk about myself in the same breath as those who suffer from dysphoria. I have no real concept of gender, which, at times, can also make it more difficult to empathize with those for whom gender is a real and vital aspect of their identities. (Pink pens for women, black rubber loofahs for men, I don’t get it.) I also don’t care which pronouns are applied to me, because all of them are equally valueless. In truth, I’d rather people not apply any, because I dislike being talked about behind my back.

When I was younger, I used to care more about putting on a gender performance. Like a high school kid preoccupied with wearing the right labels on their clothes, I cared about how my gender was perceived. People still saw through it, though… I will never forget sitting in a living room with a group of friends, getting ready to watch T.V., only to have my room mate (annoyed that we didn’t want to watch what she wanted to watch instead) huffily declare,

“Well, [J]’s not even a real girl!”

Shit, I thought, am I that obvious?

As I matured, I learned better than to sacrifice my energy to keeping up a performance that, frankly, I couldn’t care less about. I’m a witch, I do as I please, and gender is a game I’ve no interest in playing. I live as I please, I dress as I please, I wear my hair (or not at all) as I please, I paint my face as I please, and I perform gender-expected functions of society as I please. I’m not the only one. This is going to continue, regardless of who thinks they can attempt to legislate my, or anyone else’s, existence away piece by piece.

It’s not going to work. Not on me, and not on anyone else.

You don’t get to erase people that easily.