Elder Magic

Look carefully as you drive along rural meadows next to wooded stream beds and you might spot the first of the elder blossoms.  Deb Soule insists that this plant is magical, and I have to agree withher. In fact, after a little digging I found plenty of lore surrounding the mystical qualities of this shrub. Planted near wells and the doors of just-married, much superstition surrounded this plant in European history.  Witches that spring out if you cut it down, were also warded off by the shrub itself. In Germanic societies elder became the symbol of life and death, as well as luck and protection.  

I couldn't resist publishing this close up of the elderflower umbel.  Each tiny flower has 5 tiny magic wands!

I couldn't resist publishing this close up of the elderflower umbel.  Each tiny flower has 5 tiny magic wands!

I had my own magical experience with elder many years ago.  The perfectly ripe flowers at my grandfather's farm were ready for harvest, but I was so exhausted I had trouble motivating myself to get them. Since flowers don't last long, I forced myself and soon was immersed in the tall spindly branches loaded with ivory flower clusters. Quite suddenly I felt the sensation of gentle hands on my back and shoulders and a great happiness filled me. By the time I had finished my task, my energy and spirit were restored. Perhaps just the act of getting outdoors and doing something I love helped me feel better, but I feel convinced there was a bit of magic in the air about those bushes. 

Traditionally the flowers of this plant have been used for nasal and sinus congestion. Steeping the fresh or dried blossoms makes a refreshing tea that helps alleviate inflamed mucus membranes.  This is my go-to tea for head colds and sinus infections. However the flowers have many wonderful culinary uses, originating in northern Europe.  From batter-fried umbels (that’s what the flower clusters are called) to cake imbued with a cordial of the blossoms, the taste is unique and possibly acquired.  These days I have less time to make medicine, or even forage for wild foods, but I never fail to pick the elder blossom and make my favorite Scandinavian specialty: Elderflower Salt.  This traditional recipe can be adapted to suit modern tastes.  I simply toss the separated flower clusters with celtic sea salt, garlic scapes, lemon rind and a bit of red pepper flakes.  After curing in the sun, I store this salt in pretty jars, perfect for spontaneous gifts to herbal friends. It makes a marvelous rub for grilled meat, fish or veggies. 

The berries of Sambucus nigra have also been used by herbalists for centuries to ward off flu.  All kinds of delicious concoctions can be created from the berries, but always they are cooked before ingesting, as the raw berries are somewhat toxic. Two of my favorite elderberry tonics are Elderberry Elixir by Avena Botanicals and Elderberry Syrup by Tooth of the Lion Apothecary.  While the first is sweet and delightful to the palate of a child, the second is an artful combination of yarrow, goldenrod, elderberry and ginger. It makes a delightful before-bed-aperitif. 

I am gathering a collection of recipes using elder flowers and berries and would love to feature yours.  Feel free to email me, or make a comment here, and toot your horn a little if you have a product to sell.  I will be posting all recipes on my online forum, GingerJuice.

Creating Community

For a long time I have craved community.  Women who love plants. Women who want to be outside. Women who believe in making the world a better place.  Women who love peace, nature and natural healing.  Women who stand up for what they believe in. Women who crave community.

This was the driving force behind the impetus to establish the MidAtlantic Women’s Herbal Conference.  I simply wanted a forum close to home where women could support each other in their quest for life purpose and healing with plants. That may sound like a pretty narrow niche, but it has happened.  Every autumn when the leaves are falling on the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside more than 200 women gather on a 90 acre farm. Most of these women I only see once a year, at this event, and yet the friendship grows, and the deep connection of sisterhood remains.  If you have never partaken in an event such as this, I can only tell you that it feels like coming home.  The incredible happiness and enthusiasm of these women radiate a powerful energy of healing, that I hope endures long after the last tent is folded up and put away.

After five years of successful gatherings, I am taking the next step.  I am creating an online community, a forum where we can connect in between live events.  Imagine checking in with each other all year long, watching the progress of those who are following their dreams, learning from each other, inspiring each other, sharing hopes and dreams.  

I am naming this group “GingerJuice,” mostly because I like the name and I’m passionate about ginger as medicine, and also because it just says something about the fun of getting together. I even had fun creating the logo on GraphicSprings.  For now Ruzuku will host the group, allowing us to get to know each other and have monthly online “Juice Cafes” where we can talk shop, invite teachers share wisdom and keep the energy going in the right direction.

Do you know anyone who might need this? I am hoping you do! To make the juice, we need the ginger - there ain’t no group, if no one shows up! If you’d like to give this a try, and see if it feels like a fit for you, then join me on this maiden voyage of online community. 

The cost to join? FREE!  The reason to join? You crave the support and friendship of like-minded women, and you love plants! 

What do you get by joining?

  • Access to a private Facebook group, where I will be fully present.
  • Access to an interview of Tammi Sweet - find out her single favorite herb for travel, and whether she really can rap.
  • Access to a monthly “Juice Cafe,” with guest teachers, Q&A sessions, and who knows what fun?
  • The chance to give feedback on our annual gathering, make special requests, and be the first to hear about early registration discounts.

And if you join by March 13, 11:59pm you will be automatically entered in a raffle for an Herb of the Month Surprise Gift Box! In less than 24 hours from this launch over 70 women have jumped in enthusiastically.  Hope to see you there!