Elder has a long and rich history. Because of the power and respect of the elder it is said that woodcutters used to be afraid to cut it down when clearing land and would recite rhymes and songs to appease the Elder Mother. When an elder planted itself in your garden it was said that the mother was choosing to protect your home from lightening and your cattle from harm.
Native Americans believed that it would heal a person of nearly any illnesses they would ever have. They believed it promoted long life and thus called it an Elder. Many in olden times planted it near their homes to ward off evil. Another interesting lore is that the Celtic people believed standing beneath one on Midsummer’s Eve they would see the King of the Fairies ride by. It is fitting given these magical visions that it is recommended for the child who is exuberant and has a great imagination but who has difficulty interacting with this world. Its pagan associations were so strong that the Church vilified it by claiming that Christ died on an Elder cross and Judas hung himself on one.
In the Middle Ages, Elder was beloved for its medicine and thus in every monastery garden (in those days monks were the keepers of medicines--herbs--and medicinal knowledge) yet vilified for its pagan power. It is called the Tree of Medicine and also the Tree of Music. The Tree of Music because as far back as the Romans it has been used to make whistles and flutes from its hollowed branches. Its Latin name was chosen for its use in flute making.
Elder flower and berries are best known for their cold and flu fighting abilities. By using them at the onset of an illness studies have shown that it greatly reduces the length of the illness. They are good for soothing sore throats, especially elder flowers steeped in vinegar.
Elder berries help create more productive coughs. Elderberries also increase cytokine production and help strengthen cell walls against viral invaders. Like lemon balm and yarrow elder flowers are a diaphoretic. Elder will produce a mild sweat which helps to sweat the virus out and reduce the fever by opening up channels of elimination through the skin and urinary tract.