The Elder Tree in Folk Lore
The elder tree is steeped in folk lore, history and superstition, probably more so than any other plant. All parts of the tree were used in traditional societies. It was an important part of every herb or monastery garden or farm. It was planted wherever European people settled so that they might have its beneficial properties close at hand.
The oldest known use was found in pole-dwellings from the Neolithic age in Switzerland (2000 BC).
The Druids thought of it as the tree of superstition, able to ward off the evil spirits and threats of death and destruction. The White Goddess, who guarded the door to the underworld, was said to protect the elder tree.
It was used by Hippocrates (ca. 460-370 BC) and Pliny the Elder (AD 77).
The wood of Christ’s cross was said to have been made from the elder.
The Anglo-Saxons thought that elders represented both good and evil – that if you cut an elder down, a witch would manifest in its place, but also that it would keep witches at bay (they were planted near wells and at the door of newly weds). If you fell asleep under the heavy scent of an elder in full bloom, you would be carried off to the world of the fairies and be protected from snakes and evil spirits.
In Germanic societies, the elder-mother, goddess of life and death was supposed to live in the elder tree. The elder became both the symbol of life and of death.