and I will give thee some of mine
when I grow into a tree."
The Elder is a tree thought in many old tales to harbour a spirit. In Northern Europe she is the Hylde-Moer, a death and fertility goddess. And since days of yore and before, folk have alternately revered and reviled the Elder as a witches' tree, a tree of magic, which must be respected.
The tree's name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Æld meaning fire, because the hollow stems make excellent kindling, and indeed it also bears folk names such as "pipe-tree", since Elder twigs have long been used as blow-pipes by children.
Its negative associations come from a belief that Elder was the wood of the crucifix and/or the tree from which Judas hung himself. The Jew's Ear fungus which grows predominantly on the Elder is so named also because of the crucifixion associations (Judas' punishment was to forever hear folk whispering of his betrayal by having his ears grow on the tree of the cross).
The Elder appears in the conjurings of the Macbeth witches, and there abound tales of Elder Tree Witches trying to steal cow's milk or pinching black and blue a baby sleeping in a cradle made from Elder Wood...
"It were all along of my maister’s thick ‘ead. It were in this ‘ow't’ rocker comed off t'cradle, and he hadn’t no more gumption than to mak’ a new ‘un out on illerwood (elder wood) without axing the Old Lady’s leave, and in course she didn’t like that, and she came and pinched the wean that outrageous he were a’most black in t’ face; but I bashed un off, and putten an eshen on, and the wean is gallus as owt agin."
But above all the Elder is a tree to be used in cooking. Elderflower and Elderberry wine and cordial are probably the most well known and fragrent Elder-recipes, but alongside these, the plant has many many medicinal benefits and other more obscure culinary uses, one of which, since the Elder is just flowering, I decided to make today...
2. Beat 1 egg in a bowl.
3. Add 250ml milk and stir.
4. Sift in 200g plain flour whilst stirring. Add a pinch of salt.
5. Dip flower heads into batter (after removing cobwebs and weevils).
6. Plunge battered flowers into a pan of smoking hot oil, a few inches deep, holding onto the stalks until the fritters have turned a golden brown.
7. Serve with a sprinkling of sugar, maple syrup or cinnamon.
For more information about Elder Lore, there's an excellent essay "By Standing Stone and Elden Tree" over at Hedgewychery.
There's more wild foodery and suchlike at Colour it Green where I found the fritter recipe.
And the fritters were delicious!