Elder is a plant with strong therapeutic effects which can be used to treat and prevent a great number of diseases. Many legends formed around elder, one of them stating that Judas hung himself from an elder tree.
What to look for:
Elder is a large deciduous shrub with corky, gray-brown bark with feathery leaves. Tiny, scented cream flowers are borne in summer, followed by black berries. The leaves are pinnate with 5–9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11). Each leaf is 5–30 cm (2.0–12 in) long, and the leaflets have serrated margins. They bear large clusters of small white or cream-coloured flowers in late spring; these are followed by clusters of small black, blue-black, or red berries (rarely yellow or white).
How Mother Nature loves it:
Although its weak wood, irregular form, and prolific seeding might make it seem like a poor choice for a landscape tree, A. negundo is one of the most common maples in cultivation and many interesting cultivars have been developed. Although native to North America, it is considered an invasive species in some areas of that continent. It can quickly colonize both cultivated and uncultivated areas and it has become naturalized in eastern China The range is therefore expanding both in North America and elsewhere. It can also be found in some of the cooler areas of the Australian continent where it is listed as a pest invasive species. Although its light, close-grained, and soft wood is considered undesirable for most uses, this tree has been considered as a commercial source of wood fiber, for use in fiberboard. There is some commercial use of tree for various decorative applications, such as turned items (bowls, stem-ware, pens). Primarily burl wood and injured wood, where the primary reason is this wood’s reaction to injury, where the injured wood develops a red stain.
How to use it:
A wealth of folk-lore, romance and superstition centre round this English tree. Shakespeare, in Cymbeline, referring to it as a symbol of grief, speaks slightingly of it as ‘the stinking Elder,’ yet, although many people profess a strong dislike to the scent of its blossom, the shrub is generally beloved by all who see it. In countrysides where the Elder flourishes it is certainly one of the most attractive features of the hedgerow, while its old-world associations have created for it a place in the hearts of English people.
Its uses are manifold and important. The wood of old trees is white and of a fine, close grain, easily cut, and polishes well, hence it was used for making skewers for butchers, shoemakers’ pegs, and various turned articles, such as tops for angling rods and needles for weaving nets, also for making combs, mathematical instruments and several different musical instruments, and the pith of the younger stems, which is exceedingly light, is cut into balls and is used for electrical experiments and for making small toys. It is also considerably used for holding small objects for sectioning for microscopical purposes.
To every quart of berries put 2 quarts of water; boil half an hour, run the liquor and break the fruit through a hair sieve; then to every quart of juice, put 3/4 of a pound of Lisbon sugar, coarse, but not the very coarsest. Boil the whole a quarter of an hour with some Jamaica peppers, ginger, and a few cloves. Pour it into a tub, and when of a proper warmth, into the barrel, with toast and yeast to work, which there is more difficulty to make it do than most other liquors. When it ceases to hiss, put a quart of brandy to eight gallons and stop up. Bottle in the spring, or at Christmas. The liquor must be in a warm place to make it work.’ Elder brews are not recommended to be consumed in large doses of over 200 g of fruit. It can create symptoms of intoxication, vomit, throat irritations, stomachal burns, respiratory difficulties or convulsions.