OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312



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Elderberry. Many thanks to the British Library for providing this image from Egerton 747f. 11, c.1300 CE.



In Early Medieval Herbalst


Elder tree, Elderberry
Sambucus nigra, Black elder


Growing elderberry in your garden


Medieval Names


Sambuca, saxonice 

Herbarium Apuleii

 Ellen; samsuchon, ellen


Ellenes, ellen, elnea; ellenrind, ellenrinde [elder bark]


Ellen, ellenes; ellen, ellenne, ellenahsan [elder ash], ellencroppan [elder berries], ellenrinde [elder bark]; ellentanas [elder twig]

Common names, early

Aeld (from OE fire, to kindle a fire, kindling), eledrum, ellaern, hylantree, hylder
Elders in full bloom


The folklore of the elder tree is complex and a little dark. This may be because all parts of this plant except the blossoms are mildly toxic until cooked, or because the flowers are white but the berries are, counter-intuitively, nearly black.

Elder leaves

the ogham symbol for ruis

the Beth-Luis-Nin ogham, the letter R, Ruis, is drawn as a single straight line crossed by five diagonal lines. The leaves of the elder are compound, with three to five pairs of leaves arranged along a central stem, and that may explain why the sign for Ruis is identified with this tree.

The tree was thought to be inhabited by or the property of a tree spirit -- some knew her as Hyldemoer, Elder Mother -- and you were wise to ask permission before taking its wood or fruit, and to leave a small gift in return.

In Britain, elder tree wood wasn't used for firewood, but was often made into charms that kept evil spirits, witches, ghosts, and lightening at bay. A rowan tree was traditionally planted by the front door, and an elder at the back, to ward off evil.

Elder wood was close-grained and long-lasting; it was used in the laying of hedges, and was said to last longer in the ground than an iron bar of the same diameter. It was believed to be dangerous to sleep in the shade of an elder, but if you stood beneath it on Midsummer Eve, the night before the summer solstice, you might see the rulers of the Otherworld ride by, with all their court in attendance.

The healing properties of the elder have been known since ancient times, when it was used as a diuretic, antiseptic, and insect repellent.

Elder Mother, give me

some of your wood, and I

will give you some of mine

when I am become
a tree.


Wiš fotece genim ellenes

leaf  7 wegbrędan 7

mucgwyrt . gecnuwa lege on

7 gebind on

Laecbok II, xxvii, 3


For foot-ache, take elder
leaves 7 plantain and
mugwort, pound, lay on,
and bandage.
                Leechbook, II, xxvii, 3  


Wiš  wyrmętum lice 7 cweldehtum acrinde dust . 

ęsrinde dust  . ellen rinde

dust on norš

anneoš am treowe...

Laecbok II, cxxxvi, 4


For a worm-eaten body and a quelled [one]:
oak bark  powder
ash bark powder
 .  elder bark
powder from north
beneath the tree...
Leechdom II, cxxvi, 4


Wiš utwęrce eft
eferlastan ufewearde . wegbr
ędan ellenrinde
sealt on ealo gegniden

Laecbok II, lvi, 2

For painful diarrhea also
everlasting the upper part .
plantain, elder bark
salt in ale kneaded
               Leechbook II, lvi, 2


Gif mon biž  on wętr
ęlfadle žonne beož
 him ža handnęglas wonne 7 ža eagan tearige 7 wile locian niwer  .

Laecbok III, 350, 21


If a man has water-
elf disease then be his
fingernails wan 7 the eyes

teary 7 they will look down .

Leechbook III, 350, 21


do him žis to lęchedome  .
eoforžrote . cassuc  . fone niožoweard  . eowberge  .  elehtre  . eolone  .  mersc-mealwan crop  . fen minte  .  dile  . lilie . attorlaže  .  polleie  . marubie  . docce  .  ellen  . fel terre  . wermod  .  streawberjean leaf  . consolde  .


ofgeot mid ealaž  . do halig węter to sing žis gealdor ofer žriwa

Ic binne awrat betest beado wręda swa benne
ne burnon ne burstan
ne wundian ne feologon .
ne hoppetan ne wund waco sian  . ne dolh  deopian  .

ac him self healde hale węge  .

ne ace že žon ma
že eoržan on eare ace  .

sing žis manegum sižum .
eorže že on bere

eallum hise mihtum 7 męgenum.


žas galdor mon męg singan on wunde.

Laecbok III, lxiii

Give him this for healing .
carline thistle
. sedge . fane netherward .

yew berry . lupin . helenium . marsh-

mallow blossom . fen mint . dill . lily .

cockspur grass . pennyroyal . horehound . dock .

elder . lesser centaury . wormwood . strawberry

leaves . comfrey .


moisten with ale . give holy water sing

this charm over three times:

I have wrought best battle bandage

so that it will

not stream not burst
not wound not bind
not throb not deepen pain
. not dole

deepen .
but himself hold healthy ways

nor hurt you then any more
than earth in sea aches

Sing this many times .
earth within you bring to bear

all her might and main.


This charm one may sing over wounds.

Leechbook III, lxiii



Please note: Many plants have been used in past and present times for medicinal purposes, and as one of the focuses of Wyrtig is the history of gardening, these uses are discussed here. However, common sense requires that you consult your family physician or other health care provider before using any plant materials for medicinal purposes. The old saying that "A doctor who treats him- (or her-) self has a fool for a patient" is no less true in herbal medicine than in any other branch of the healing sciences. Herbal remedies should not be used by the uninformed; medical advice should be sought before using any herbal remedy.


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