The bright umbels of white flowers a familiar sight across Europe (and beyond).
Nothing beats climbing an alpine peak to find a valley of the pale cream coloured clusters of tiny petals gently swaying the in wind. The delicate perfume and the clear crisp mountain air could almost have you believe you had climbed into an enchanted timeless realm that had laid hidden amongst the peaks for centuries. In this magical land the only sound you hear is the calling of the cuckoo, the wind whispering through the trees or sound of the tin bells from grazing cattle tinkering like a kindergarten orchestra. That is until you see a flash of bright orange and a the roar of a 747 jet engine as an Easyjet flight reminding you that you are indeed on planet Earth.
It is perhaps this intrinsic link with lazy summer days that has ensured the aroma and scent of the Elderflower a firm place in our hearts for generations. However, it has not always been such a love affair and only a few generations ago the elder was feared by many country folk across Europe. In Denmark for instance, an ancient vegetation Goddess named Hylde Moer was thought to be the Elder tree mother and so she watched over every tree. Some believe that she even became part of each tree and it was said that she would avenge any injury done to her. This meant that any who dare to make furniture from the wood would ensure Hylde Moer would haunt the owners for ever more. To stop the curse a prayer was offered, “Give me some of your wood, then I will give you some of mine when it grows in the forest”. Rather conveniently if Hylde Moer was going to let you take here wood she’d consent by staying silent. So next time an elder is silent you’ll be able to pick from her.
Not all of the folklore surrounding Elder was sinister and, over in Russia, they believe that Elder trees drive away evil spirits and so a tree would be planted in most front gardens. But one of my most favoured superstitions is another Danish belief, that he who stood under the an Elder tree on Midsummer Eve would see the King of Fairyland ride by with all of his entourage. I’d assume that the season being similar to that of the Fly agaric mushroom might have something to do with the last superstition!
The elder doesn’t just fill our books with folklore and mythology, but it has also filled our stomachs for many years. A handful of fresh elder flower infused in vodka with a little sugar makes for a fine elderflower liquor. But too there is Elderflower Champagne, a sweet partially fermented drink, which is drunk throughout the summer and also a more alcoholic Elderflower champagne . Lest we forget Elderflower cordial once a country drink that is now so popular that it sits on most supermarkets shelves across the land.