Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gift of the Elder Flower

It's high medicine making season around here. I think this is my favorite time of year. I love working with the living plants...talking to them, thanking them for their gifts of good medicine. I love the beauty of immersing myself in the natural world. I love that this has become part of our lifestyle and my children are growing with a connection to the earth, the plants and all of their gifts.

Harvesting elder always brings me into feelings of gratitude for all these things. The elder in our earthspace is in full flower now, which is incredibly beautiful. We harvest the flowers during this time, making sure to leave plenty for producing berries later in the season. The boys and I strode out to the wild elderberry patch in our back 40 (that is the 40% of an acre of wild earthspace we stuard across the road) yesterday. 

That's the elder, all in white blooms in the distance. While I gathered flowers, the boys splashed around in the stream (just beyond the trees) and looked for crawdads. The birds chattered in the trees and our cat, Gray, lazed around in the grass. I can't tell you how magical that moment was for me, and felt so blessed to be able to see the beauty of the earth that so many seem blind to these days.

These elder flowers I had gathered to tincture for winter medicine. I also dry the flowers for making tea. The flowers are calming to the nerves and diaphoretic, making them wonderful for relieving fevers, even in young children. A famous gypsy fever remedy combines elder flowers, yarrow and peppermint. The tincture of the flowers may be used to treat upper respiratory infections. It is a remedy I have come to depend on and I make sure to have a fresh stock in my pantry every year.

Taking my basket of umbels home, I sat on the porch gently shaking out the little insects that seem to love these flowers, and stripping the blossoms from the stems into a mason jar. There is something indescribable in the experience of working with the medicinal plants this way, as if part of their medicine travels into you through the fingertips. 

As I worked, Alden picked up the camera to capture mama in all her medicine making bliss. 

Once the jar was filled most of the way with flowers, I poured 80 proof brandy over it all and stirred it with a wooden chopstick. Then I screwed on the lid and labeled my maceration. This is the simple method of tincturing that doesn't require a lot of math. Fresh, soft plants can be tinctured in this way as long as you menstruum is at least 80 proof to ensure preservation. I shake up my macerations as often as I remember for 6 to 8 weeks before I strain and squeeze them. This is a good time to send thoughts of gratitude to the plants and intentions of healing into the medicine.

Elder is the queen of the garden and fields around here, and her gifts are highly respected and valued. Gail Faith Edwards says that "people with an affinity for elder are spiritual by nature and possess healing powers. Tuned into the devic realm, they communicate easily with nature spirits." Elder is a symbol of protection, and blessing. How honored we are to have it in our earthspace and to gather it's medicine. How sad that this beautiful and healing wild plant has been so neglected in our time and relegated to the waysides, where it is often mowed or sprayed. 

Like most of the wayside herbs though, elder will always return whenever a patch of land is allowed to regenerate. But the folk tales tell us that to access the medicine of the elder, we must honor and respect her. Changing our attitude to elder to access her healing gifts is a part of the larger process of healing our relationship with the natural world, with Gaia and all her children. It is an attitude I try to demonstrate to my truly blessed we are to receive the gifts of the honored we feel to live on the land and treat her with love and respect. 

Thank you, Elder, for all of your gifts!