The elder is associated with many legends and ancient magic. It is believed to protect and bring luck as well as clear negativity, sorcery and evil. However, throughout history, it has also been associated with death. In English funerals, elder branches were trimmed into a cross and planted on graves. If the plant blossomed, it meant the dead were happy. Even the hearse driver’s whip was made from elder wood. These beliefs relating to both life and death make sense when you realise that some parts of the elder are poisonous while others are deliciously edible.
The elder’s berries and blossoms have been used for centuries for everything from cough syrups to cosmetics. Elderflowers are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, useful for itchy, dry skin, chilblains and to treat minor wounds. It is a particularly good plant for colds and coughs. The flowers have decongestant and antiviral properties and can be used to prevent a cold as well as for treating one. The berries are rich in vitamin C.