Traditional attitudes towards the elder are contradictory. Many people thought it evil, and would never lop it, bring its flowers into the house, or make tools from its wood; to burn it would bring death, or the Devil, into the house. Its shade was thought to poison all other plants, and even humans sleeping nearby; also, a gash from an elder stick supposedly never heals, and babies rocked in elder-wood cradles always die young. Some said this was bercause *Judas hanged himself on an elder, others that it is 'a witch-tree' (cf. *Rollright Stones). In some districts anyone about to cut elder wood asked permission, though the formula used had a trick in it: 'Owd Gal, give me of thy wood, and Oi will give some of moine, when Oi graws inter a tree' (or, 'when I am dead', in other versions).
   In contrast, others thought it sacred, because the Cross was made of elder wood; it would never be struck by lightning, and one near a house would drive away all evil, especially witches. Its leaves or twigs, carried in the pocket, were a defence against witchcraft and a cure for rheumatism; a necklace of its twigs prevented fits.
   Elderflower tea and elderberry wine were good for coughs, colds, and fevers, and the bark boiled in milk for jaundice; the leaves were used in poultices and ointments, for example for grazes and for eczema. The smell of the leaves repels flies and wasps, so elder bushes were planted outside the windows of dairies and larders, and round outdoor lavatories.
   ■ Vickery, 1995: 118-26; Hatfield, 1994; Opie and Tatem, 1989: 127-9.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.


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