I’ve spent many years researching and writing about the uses people make of plants
and what plants mean to the people who use them.

There is a summary of my work and some of the projects I’ve been involved in here


Elder © Aaron Parker

Elder - Sambucus nigra         Photo: © Aaron Parker

Few scents evoke the sense and enjoyment of the countryside in Summer as strongly as that of elder flowers, their distinctive fragrance hanging heavy in the air on still evenings.

A huge body of folklore - which still exerts a hold on many today - is attached to this shrubby tree. With its name linked to the Anglo-Saxon word aeld for fire, and said to be the manifestation of the ancient Scandinavian tree spirit Hylde-Moer, there has long been a belief in the tree as a protective force: for the home and land, for travelers and for animals, and that to cut or burn the wood will bring bad luck. Elder boughs were once hung above doorways to deter evil and were thought capable of protecting from lightening too, and, due to their insect repellent properties, positioned above the doors and windows of dairies and bakeries and planted beside stables and cattle stalls. Despite being maligned by the Church (Judas, it was decided had hanged himself on an elder tree and Christ's cross made from the wood), the idea of protection from evil was not diminished. With a multitude of folk medicinal uses, elder was amongst the plants that once played an important part in rituals that took place on the eve of May Day and on Midsummer's (or St John's) Eve, 23rd June, when bunches containing elder flowers were held over fires so that the smoke produced would drive away impurities.

See : The Elder, The Mother Tree of Folklore, Chris Howkins, 1996

tree of the month