Elder





'Arn,' or the common Elder, says Gerard, groweth everywhere;

and it is planted about cony burrows, for the shadow of the

conies. Formerly it was much [165] cultivated near our English

cottages, because supposed to afford protection against witches.

Hence it is that the Elder tree may be so often seen immediately

near old village houses. It acquired its name from the Saxon word

eller or kindler, because its hollow branches were made into

tubes to blow through for brightening up a dull fire. By the Greeks

it was called Aktee. The botanical name of the Elder is

Sambucus nigra, from sambukee, a sackbut, because the

young branches, with their pith removed, were brought into

requisition for making the pipes of this, and other musical

instruments.



It was probably introduced as a medicinal plant at the time of the

Monasteries. The adjective term nigra refers to the colour of the

berries. These are without odour, rather acid, and sweetish to the

taste. The French put layers of the flowers among apples, to which

they impart, an agreeable odour and flavour like muscatel. A tract

on Elder and Juniper Berries, showing how useful they may be in

our Coffee Houses, is published with the Natural History of

Coffee, 1682. Elder flowers are fatal to turkeys.



Hippocrates gave the bark as a purgative; and from his time the

whole tree has possessed a medicinal celebrity, whilst its fame in

the hands of the herbalist is immemorial. German writers have

declared it contains within itself a magazine of physic, and a

complete chest of medicaments.



The leaves when bruised, if worn in the hat, or rubbed on the face,

will prevent flies from settling on the person. Likewise turnips,

cabbages, fruit trees, or corn, if whipped with the branches and

green leaves of Elder, will gain an immunity from all depredations

of blight; but moths are fond of the blossom.



Dried Elder flowers have a dull yellow colour, being [166]

shrivelled, and possessing a sweet faint smell, unlike the repulsive

odour of the fresh leaves and bark. They have a somewhat bitter,

gummy taste, and are sold in entire cymes, with the stalks. An

open space now seen in Malvern Chase was formerly called

Eldersfield, from the abundance of Elder trees which grew there.

The flowers were noted, says Mr. Symonds, for eye ointments,

and the berries for honey rob and black pigments. Mary of

Eldersfield, the daughter of Bolingbroke, was famous for her

knowledge of herb pharmacy, and for the efficacy of her nostrums.



Chemically the flowers contain a yellow, odorous, buttery oil, with

tannin, and malates of potash and lime, whilst the berries furnish

viburnic acid. On expression they yield a fine purple juice, which

proves a useful laxative, and a resolvent in recent colds. Anointed

on the hair they make it black.



A medicinal tincture (H.) is made from the fresh inner bark of the

young branches. This, when given in toxical quantities, will induce

profuse sweating, and will cause asthmatic symptoms to present

themselves. When used in a diluted form it is highly beneficial for

relieving the same symptoms, if they come on as an attack of

illness, particularly for the spurious croup of children, which

wakes them at night with a suffocative cough and wheezing. A

dose of four or five drops, if given at once, and perhaps repeated

in fifteen minutes, will straightway prove of singular service.



Sir Thomas Browne said that in his day the Elder had become a

famous medicine for quinsies, sore throats, and strangulations.



The inspissated juice or rob extracted from the crushed berries,

and simmered with white sugar, is cordial, aperient, and diuretic.

This has long been a [167] popular English remedy, taken hot at

bed-time, when a cold is caught. One or two tablespoonfuls

are mixed with a tumblerful of very hot water. It promotes

perspiration, and is demulcent to the chest. Five pounds of the

fresh berries are to be used with one pound of loaf sugar, and the

juice should be evaporated to the thickness of honey.



The recent rob of the Elder spread thick upon a slice of bread and

eaten before other dishes, says Dr. Blochwich, 1760, is our

wives' domestic medicine, which they use likewise in their infants

and children whose bellies are stop't longer than ordinary; for this

juice is most pleasant and familiar to children; or to loosen the

belly drink a draught of the wine at your breakfast, or use the

conserve of the buds.



Also a capital wine, which may well pass for Frontignac, is

commonly made from the fresh berries, with raisins, sugar, and

spices. When well brewed, and three years' old, it constitutes

English port. A cup of mulled Elder wine, served with nutmeg

and sippets of toast, just before going to bed on a cold wintry

night, is a thing, as Cobbet said, to be run for. The juice of

Elder root, if taken in a dose of one or two tablespoonfuls when

fasting, acts as a strong aperient, being the most excellent purger

of watery humours in the world, and very singular against dropsy,

if taken once in the week.



John Evelyn, in his Sylva (1729), said of the Elder: If the

medicinal properties of its leaves, bark, and berries, were fully

known, I cannot tell what our countrymen could ail, for which he

might not fetch a remedy from every hedge, either for sickness or

wounds. The buds boiled in water gruel have effected wonders in a

fever, and an extract composed [168] of the berries greatly

assists longevity. Indeed,--so famous is the story of Neander--

this is a catholicum against all infirmities whatever. The leaves,

though somewhat rank of smell, are otherwise, as indeed is the

entire shrub, of a very sovereign virtue. The springbuds are

excellently wholesome in pottage; and small ale, in which Elder

flowers have been infused, are esteemed by many so salubrious,

that this is to be had in most of the eating houses about our town.



It were likewise profitable for the scabby if they made a sallet of

those young buds, who in the beginning of the spring doe bud

forth together with those outbreakings and pustules of the skin,

which by the singular favour of nature is contemporaneous; these

being sometimes macerated a little in hot water, together with

oyle, salt, and vinegar, and sometimes eaten. It purgeth the belly,

and freeth the blood from salt and serous humours (1760).

Further, there be nothing more excellent to ease the pains of the

haemorrhoids than a fomentation made of the flowers of the Elder

and Verbusie, or Honeysuckle, in water or milk, for in a short

time it easeth the greatest pain.



If the green leaves are warmed between two hot tiles, and applied

to the forehead, they will promptly relieve nervous headache. In

Germany the Elder is regarded with much respect. From its leaves

a fever drink is made; from its berries a sour preserve, and a

wonder-working electuary; whilst the moon-shaped clusters of its

aromatic flowers, being somewhat narcotic, are of service in

baking small cakes.



The Romans made use of the black Elder juice as a hair dye. From

the flowers a fragrant water is now distilled as a perfume; and a

gently stimulating ointment is prepared with lard for dressing

burns and [169] scalds. Another ointment, concocted from the

green berries, with camphor and lard, is ordered by the London

College as curative of piles. The leaves of Elder boiled soft, and

with a little linseed oil added thereto, if then laid upon a piece of

scarlet or red cloth, and applied to piles as hot as this can be

suffered, being removed when cold, and replaced by one such

cloth after another upon the diseased part by the space of an hour,

and in the end some bound to the place, and the patient put warm

to bed. This hath not yet failed at the first dressing to cure the

disease, but if the patient be dressed twice, it must needs cure them

if the first fail. The Elder was named Eldrun and Burtre by

the Anglo-Saxons. It is now called Bourtree in Scotland, from

the central pith in the younger branches which children bore out so

as to make pop guns:--



Bour tree--Bour tree: crooked rung,

Never straight, and never strong;

Ever bush, and never tree

Since our Lord was nailed on thee.



The Elder is specially abundant in Kent around Folkestone. By the

Gauls it was called Scovies, and by the Britons Iscaw.



This is the tree upon which the legend represents Judas as having

hanged himself, or of which the cross was made at the crucifixion.

In Pier's Plowman's Vision it is said:--



Judas he japed with Jewen silver,

And sithen an eller hanged hymselve.



Gerard says the gelly of the Elder, otherwise called Jew's ear,

taketh away inflammations of the mouth and throat if they be

washed therewith, and doth in like Manner help the uvula. He

refers here to a fungus [170] which grows often from the trunk of

the Elder, and the shape of which resembles the human ear.

Alluding to this fungus, and to the supposed fact that the berries of

the Elder are poisonous to peacocks, a quaint old rhyme runs

thus:--



For the coughe take Judas' eare,

With the paring of a peare,

And drynke them without feare

If you will have remedy.



Three syppes for the hycocke,

And six more for the chycocke:

Thus will my pretty pycocke

Recover bye and bye.



Various superstitions have attached themselves in England to the

Elder bush. The Tree-Mother has been thought to inhabit it; and it

has been long believed that refuge may be safely taken under an

Elder tree in a thunderstorm, because the cross was made

therefrom, and so the lightning never strikes it. Elder was formerly

buried with a corpse to protect it from witches, and even now at a

funeral the driver of the hearse commonly has his whip handle

made of Elder wood. Lord Bacon commended the rubbing of warts

with a green Elder stick, and then burying the stick to rot in

the mud. Brand says it is thought in some parts that beating with

an Elder rod will check the growth of boys. A cross made of the

wood if affixed to cow-houses and stables was supposed to protect

cattle from all possible harm.



Belonging to the order of Caprifoliaceous (with leaves eaten by

goats) plants, the Elder bush grows to the size of a small tree,

bearing many white flowers in large flat umbels at the ends of the

branches. It gives off an unpleasant soporific smell, which is said

to prove harmful to those that sleep under its shade. Our summer

is [171] not here until the Elder is fully in flower, and it ends when

the berries are ripe. When taken together with the berries of Herb

Paris (four-leaved Paris) they have been found very useful in

epilepsy. Mark by the way, says Anatomie of the Elder

(1760), the berries of Herb Paris, called by some Bear, or Wolfe

Grapes, is held by certain matrons as a great secret against

epilepsie; and they give them ever in an unequal number, as three,

five, seven, or nine, in the water of Linden tree flowers. Others also

do hang a cross made of the Elder and Sallow, mutually inwrapping

one another, about the children's neck as anti-epileptick.

I learned the certainty of this experiment (Dr. Blochwich)

from a friend in Leipsick, who no sooner erred in diet but

he was seized on by this disease; yet after he used the Elder

wood as an amulet cut into little pieces, and sewn in a knot against

him, he was free. Sheep suffering from the foot-rot, if able to get

at the bark and young shoots of an Elder tree, will thereby cure

themselves of this affection. The great Boerhaave always took off

his hat when passing an Elder bush. Douglas Jerrold once, at a

well-known tavern, ordered a bottle of port wine, which should be

old, but not Elder.



The Dwarf Elder (Sambucus ebulus) is quite a different

shrub, which grows not infrequently in hedges and bushy places,

with a herbaceous stem from two to three feet high. It possesses a

smell which is less aromatic than that of the true Elder, and it

seldom brings its fruit to ripeness. A rob made therefrom is

actively purgative; one tablespoonful for a dose. The root, which

has a nauseous bitter taste, was formerly used in dropsies. A

decoction made from it, as well as from the inner bark, purges, and

promotes free urination.



[172] The leaves made into a poultice will resolve swellings and

relieve contusions. The odour of the green leaves will drive away

mice from granaries. To the Dwarf Elder have been given the

names Danewort, Danesweed, and Danesblood, probably because

it brings about a loss of blood called the Danes, or perhaps as a

corruption of its stated use contra quotidianam. The plant is also

known as Walewort, from wal--slanghter. It grows in great

plenty about Slaughterford, Wilts, where there was a noted

fight with the Danes; and a patch of it thrives on ground in

Worcestershire, where the first blood was drawn in the civil war

between the Parliament and the Royalists. Rumour says it will

only prosper where blood has been shed either in battle, or in

murder.





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