Elder / Ruis

elderElder is the last of the consonants – R is for Ruis in the old Gaelic.

Elder is a sprawling, twiggy tree much associated with human habitation in the Highlands of Scotland, though it grows more widely in hedgerows elsewhere. It has dishes of white blossom and subsequent bunches of glossy berries and many magical properties. Both flowers and berries make excellent wine.


if this tree was a poem

it would be a loose



wizened trunks

branches pitted with scars

leaves abandoned without qualm

more will grow

a robin

more familiar with the tree

than me


back and forth

between leafy twigs

parallel stems

warps of a loom

remember those dishes of nectar blossoms

bundles of berries such open-handed generosity

filling the hollow with exhuberant




slumped in vivacity

teeming with ease

Mandy Haggith

Snippets of Lore

Elder is the 13th letter in the Gaelic tree alphabet, the last of the consonants – Ruis in old Gaelic, Droman in modern Gaelic.

In latin, elder is Sambucus nigra. Sambuca is a kind of harp.

Sambuca, the alcoholic drink, contains essential oils obtained from star anise and elder flowers. (from @coilleduine)

Elder is used to make many musical instruments, including whistles, flutes, pipes and bagpipe chanters.

Elder may have got its English name from Hylde, the Norse goddess.

Elder has so many healing powers it is called Queen of Herbs

Elder is also called ‘Stinking Tree’ because of its smelly leaves.

There is a wise old woman, The Elder Mother, who lives in the elder tree.

See Hans Christian Anderson’s story, the little Elder-Tree Mother http://www.fairytalescollection.com/Hans_Christian_Anderson/The_Little_Elder_Tree_Mother.htm

Burning elder wood might bring a death in the family. It sometimes screams if you put it on a fire.

Elder pith (from inside twigs) is good tinder. After extracting, use stems as bellows or pipe for fires.

Elder produces big dinner-plate blossoms made of masses of tiny 5-petaled  flowers on stems in clusters of 5.

Drink elderflower tea to stop a head cold or cough.

Elderflower fritters fried in batter are delicious.

A bunch of elderberries is called a drupe.

Elderberries cure flu, headaches, syphilis, snake bites, maybe even madness! Elderberry tea is good for a sore throat.

Elderberry liqueur recipe here http://wildthymebank.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/elderberry-liqueur/

More elder recipes please – there must be loads of them out there!

Lots of elder chat and recipes here: champagne & vinegar my faves (from @markwildfood) http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/?page_id=370

Elder leaves repel mice and soothe insect bites.

Elder twigs used to make ‘dromanach’ – pegs to hold thatch down on a roof.

Elder pith is used commercially for microscrope slides.

Elder wood is good for bowls, spoons and forks.

Elder wood can be used for fishing rods and the pith for floats.

Elder leaves give green dye, berries give purple and bark gives black.

The Elder Tree – a poem by Jay Howard http://jay.howardesign.com/eldertree.html

Some believe Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, was hung from an elder tree. Elders often have a fungus called Judas’ ears.

An elder tree by your house puts off flies (and evil spirits). Elders mostly grow near houses in the Highlands.

Elder leaves outside your front door stop witches coming into the house.

Elder leaves on stable door stops the goblins riding your horses at night.

Leave milk or a cake under the elder tree for the fairies for good luck.

Wear elder leaves in your hair for good luck.

Elder twigs make good-luck beads.

Dab your eyes with elder to see into people’s secrets.

Elder protects against lightning and thunder.

If you sleep under an elder tree you might wake up in fairyland.

At midsummer, stand under an elder and the King of the Fairies might bewitch you, unless you have iron on you.

To cut elder wood you must say, three times, ‘Elder Mother, please give me some wood, and I’ll give you some of mine when I grow into a tree’.

When elder flowers, it’s time to sow grain seeds in the fields.

Wash your face in dew from an elder tree to become beautiful.

Scatter a few elderberries for a blessing.

The spirit of the elder tree knows if you have done something bad and makes you red-faced with shame.

The spirit of the elder tree also knows if you have done something good and makes you blush with pride.

Pick elderflowers at full moon to make a drink to sing like a bird.

Drinking elderflower wine will keep you young.

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