• Pridie Tiernan

FAIRYTRAILS #4: Elder

Updated: Mar 30

Our fourth focus in this outdoor storying challenge!


"Elder is the lady’s tree, burn it not or cursed ye be"

- an old English saying

Welcome to our 'Fairytrails' challenge! If you would like a quick outline of what this is all about, click here! If you're ready to go - let's do it!


Recognising elder...

It's not an easy task to identify trees in winter, but you can have a good go with the following bits of information:

  • Elder has green, not-that-pleasant-smelling twigs on show in winter. These are hollow or have a white spongy tissue/pith inside.

  • In winter, the buds look a bit ragged with leaves showing through the bud scales.

  • Leaves are pinnate - which mean they look like feathers and there are 5-7 leaflets.

  • Berries are purple/black in autumn.

  • Use Flora Incognita or the Woodland Trust app to help you be certain that what you are looking at is, in fact, an elder tree!

When you pop out for your walk and finally find your elder, you might be interested to know:

  • This tree has had a mixed reputation historically! Some people fear the tree and associate it with witches. Others value it as protective, and medicinal.

  • Some used to say that to burn elder wood brought disaster down upon you and in certain parts of the country the tree was never touched after dark.

  • Apparently, if elder twigs were added to a fire, it apparently showed its displeasure by going out, and apparently, and food cooked on it (should you have been foolish enough to do this) would definitely not be fit to eat!

  • But other people also believed the elder tree was sacred – that a spirit or goddess lived inside of it. In German and Scandinavian lore, they referred to this goddess as old Elder Mother (Hyldemöer). It was thought that this tree spirit had the power to protect people - gifting us with flowers and berries, and the leaves could be said to protect a home or a person from evil spirits when hung in a doorway or around the neck.


Now's the time for a tale...

(As this one is about witches, we recommend you listen before sharing with little ones - my girls were fine but they've been brought up on a diet of fairy and folk tales!)


Click here to listen to my lockdown podcast 'The Elder Witch' to hear how a calm and quick thinking granny overcame the Elder Witch!


Outdoor storying challenge #4:

OPTION 1: Can you make yourself a woodland wand?

OPTION 2: Try some 'witchy' stick weaving!


Bushcraft, podcasts and other things that might interest you...

  • Now you know your elder tree, return to her this summer and autumn and check out the wonderful Rachel Lambert: Wild Food Foraging website for delicious recipes!

  • Read a little more about the folklore of the elder tree.

  • Listen to Icy Sedgewick's Fabulous Folklore podcast episode on the Elder Tree.


Happy outdoor storying y'all! Let us know how you get on!

Pridie, Elva & Adelind :)




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