A common hedgerow tree surrounded in myth and legend
Mythology and Folklore
The Anglo-Saxons along with the medieval Danish and other Europeans believed that the elder tree was sacred. This sacredness came from a spirit or goddess believed to be the Elder Mother who had the power both to protect and to cause harm.
Part of the myth was that the Elder Mother enabled the elderflower plants to provide natural gifts and blessings in the form of the flowers, berries and the leaves.
It was believed each tree part contained different powers; the leaves would protect a home and people from evil spirits if they are dried and hung in a doorway or around the person's neck.
It was also believed that if an elder grew near a home the tree would protect the home and all who resided in it.
So, if this myth is true and you wish to take parts of the elder tree, you must ask permission from the Elder Mother or she will seek her revenge! To gain approval you must make an offering to the tree, kneeling with your head bowed and reciting the following:
“Lady Ellhorn give me of thy wood,
And I will give thee of mine,
When I become a tree.”
I haven't seen many people doing this when collecting their elderflowers for cordial. Even those who may not believe that permission is required, it is still believed that it is unwise to cut or burn its wood for fear of upsetting the Elder Mother.
For related reading, see our Elderflower Identification article and lots of yummy recipes to try.