Tag Archives: bruises

365 Frankendael day 42

Today a post about one plant, my favourite, Elder (Sambucus nigra).

This wonderful ancient healing plant, which has been steeped in mysticism and folklore for millennia, is producing flowers that cheer up almost every hedgerow in town, right now.

Where you find one Elder shrub, you are likely to find others close by. It springs up in the most unexpected places and is a true survivor. It has bumpy, brittle, crooked branches, smelly leaves and phenomenal frothy flower heads, stacked all over the plant. They remind me of small terraces, tilting in almost the same direction, all over the shrub.

This photo shows one of many Elder shrubs, along the Hugo de Vrieslaan hedgerow which provides a boundary for Park Frankendael. Now the flowers are mature and plentiful.

I’ve talked about this plant quite a lot previously, Google Elderflower recipes and you may be amazed by how many people like to eat this flower. Remember to avoid eating the leaves amd twigs, they will likely make you ill. I was refreshing my knowledge of the plant this evening by reading Wild Man Steve Brill’s book, Edible and Medicinal Plants. He talks about an American cousin of our local Sambucus nigra, called Sambucus canadensis and I was surprised to learn that the stems and leaves can sometimes yield cyanide, when a bitter alkaloid and glycoside within them change. So definitely parts of Elder to avoid in your diet!

One piece of Elder history I want to mention today, is how ancient Christians were irritated or threatened by the Elder Mother cult in Europe. The Elder mother was/is said to live within the Elder bush. You should ask her permission to harvest from her tree, should never burn her, should never chop her down, without asking her to leave. Ancient Europeans revered the Elder, welcoming and encouraging it to grow near their homes. the Elder mother protected homes from fire and lightning, kept your cattle safe and of course provided simple medicine for your whole family. This folklore helped to make the shrub commonly available for all manner of uses. In an attempt to rid communities of their attachment to the Elder Mother, the plant became embedded in the most negative ways, within Christian stories. Judas was said to have hanged himself from an Elder and Christ was said to have been nailed to an Elder cross. But of course this couldn’t be true due to the brittle nature of the tree. The tree was also much associated with witchcraft and yet was also said to protect you from witches. It seems that everyone had something to say about this shrub which points to it having had many uses.

I’ll be harvesting some more Elderflowers tomorrow, probably to be broken up and sprinkled into a light batter, some to be added to general cooking (we had it on baked fish last week, very good and interesting), some to make a face wash and some to be dried for use as a fever remedy when needed. I also fancy making some Elder leaf infused oil this weekend, for external use in an ointment. It is often useful on bruises, sprains and chilblains.

Love Elder and she will love you back, but be gentle with her and ask (and listen) when you’d like to take some of her gifts. She has many, many gifts and is not to be overlooked or underestimated.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana, NL:Toverhazelaar)

Witch hazel is one of my favourite shrubs and I am hoping to introduce it to my pavement garden this winter.  When unrestricted its crooked, apple tree-like branches grow to 4 – 6 inches in diameter and the whole shrub can reach around 12 feet in height.  However it can also do well in small spaces, such as large pots or pavement gardens (geveltuinen). It grows best in moisture retentive, acid to neutral soil and is adapted to living in light shade.  Witch hazel is also tolerant of polluted city air and its unusual yellow October flowers make it a good option for the urban herbologist.

The leaves and bark of Witch hazel are very useful.  They taste bitter, containing tannic and gallic acids as well as a volatile oil.  Its effects are  astringent, tonic and sedative so preparations of Hamamelis virginiana are often used to treat internal and external bleeding.  The most well known uses of this herb are for treating piles, bruises and inflammatory swellings but it is sometimes used for diarrhoea, dysentery and mucous discharges.  Please be aware that using Witch hazel internally should only be done under expert guidance.  Due to its astringent effect, Witch hazel distilled extract (available cheaply from many chemists) makes a great skin toner.  I used it as a teenager, it works well and I think it smells great.  These days I use it mostly for treating bruises.

Chips of dried Hamamelis virginiana bark can be obtained from herbal suppliers.  You may find this beautiful shrub in local parks, hedgerows and areas of woodland.  It is also a fairly popular garden shrub due to the unusual winter flowers.  Apparently it is very difficult to propagate Witch hazel by cuttings and the edible seeds (if you can find them as they are dispersed far and wide by explosion) can take over a year to germinate.  I am hoping to take a winter cutting from a friend’s plant very soon.  I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has been successful in this.

Witch hazel can be used in many ways;

  • Tea (made from the leaves and young twigs or bark, fresh or dried) can be applied directly to piles or dabbed onto bruised or inflamed areas of skin.  This also makes a milder skin toner than the distilled extract, often good for acne, oily skin and shrinking bags under the eyes.
  • Tincture, best made from the bark.
  • Fluid extract, if you can squeeze the juice out, can be included in ointments to calm varicose veins.
  • Distilled extract, easily obtained from chemists, great for dabbing onto bruises, insect stings and bites, applied very quickly as a compress for burst varicose veins – which are life threatening and need immediate medical attention. Can be applied to intact varicose veins as a soaked lint bandage, wrapped gently around the area loose enough to allow the blood to flow unrestricted.
  • Powdered bark, if you can make it then this can be applied to piles when combined in a cream or paste.