Taking over from Hawthorn in the Irish hedgerows, the flowers of the elder tree, Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra) are coming into bloom right now. The elder tree was prized for its many uses: culinary, medicinal and mystical. Both the flowers and berries of the elder can be used to make wine. One can also make a cordial, syrup or champagne from the flowers. It is such a wonderful herb, great for colds, flu, upper respiratory infections and allergies. It is an immune-enhancing herb. A tea can be made from fresh or dried flowers which can be used for fevers, colds and flu. A cold tea can be used as a skincare wash, for night sweats and hot flushes.
Elder tree mature trees grow to a height of around 15m and can live for 60 years. Elder is characterised by its short trunk, and grey-brown, corky, furrowed bark. The flowers are borne on large flat umbels, the individual flowers are creamy coloured, highly scented, and have five petals. After pollination by insects, each flower develops into a small, purple-black, berry, which ripens from late-summer to autumn. Both the male and female reproductive parts are contained within the same flower.
In Ireland, the elder was considered a sacred tree and, like the hawthorn, it was forbidden to cut one down, the elder was highly respected. It was said to protect from evil spirits as well as inviting them. Cradles were built from elder wood to protect babies and elder bushes were often planted around cattle to keep them healthy. It was believed that planting an elder near your house would also protect it from lightning, flutes can be made from the branches which have a hollow centre.