What do Elder leaves look like?
The Elder tree is versatile, all parts have been used whether implements for the hearth, sewing, shoe making or medicine. Today I would like to focus on uses for the wood and the leaves.
Parts Used of the Elder Tree: wood, leaves, flowers, berries; very popular insect and songbird attractor;
The Audubon Society has a great article on the mockingbird, for example, and its preferred food choices. Elderberry is among their favorite.
Elder Wood: wood from older trees cuts and polishes easily. Traditionally this wood though hard was used for smaller wooden implements like pegs, skewers for butchers, or needles for weaving. The elder is common in parts of Europe as a hedgerow and for fencing. As I mentioned in my last post, the elderberry wood can easily be hollowed out and flute made. UC Davis in California offered a flute making class using elder wood.
Elder Leaves: Leaves are typically collected in June and July, in the morning after the dew has evaporated. Leaves can be cut and infused with oil, such as olive oil, to make salves, ointments for bruises and sprains. When the leaves are crushed the odor is not pleasant and is thought to deter insects. When made into a tea the cooled liquid was sprinkled around the garden to keep aphids off other plants and even to ward off blight. If sprinkled on a hat this tea could prevent flies from swarming around the face. These are external uses. I could not find consistent use of tea from leaves for everyday use. Historically, the tea made from the leaves is an emetic and therefore would only be used in emergency not everyday. Therefore I recommend external use for the tea only.
Elderberry Dye: For those of you interested in natural dyes, elder offers several choices.
In Scotland the bark of older elders creates and was used as a black dye.
When leaves are mixed with alum a green dye is created.
When berries are used plus alum you have a blue purple dye.
The juice of the berries plus alum makes violet.
The juice of the berries plus alum plus salt makes lilac.
For information on making natural dyes, this site is helpful.
Next I’ll discuss the elderberries, the flowers and the fruits, the parts most commonly used for cold and flu prevention.