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Journal

Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

Elder: The Queen of Herbs

Katie Gordon

My life has basically become one giant Wild Medicine Bundle as I've been exploring the energetics and plant medicine of Elderflower. I've been wanting to make magic with these soft, creamy flowers for a long time, but lately, the Elder tree has been calling more loudly than normal. So, I listened. 

Most of us are used to using the berries from the Elder tree for their immune-boosting effects. And while the flowers have some of the same benefits, they felt more mysterious to me. Enigmatic. And so ethereal. 

I first started working with Elder plant medicine last fall when I got an Elderflower essence from Casandra Johns over at House of Hands. She says, "Elderflower opens us to the liminal, crepuscular spaces between waking and dreaming, here and there, life and death." What caught my attention, though, was on the label: A somatic experience of spacious surrender.

Surrender... Something I've been feeling into and trying to understand from deep within my bones to have an embodied sense of it rather than just as an intellectual concept. Surrendering not in the sense of giving up, but in the way of following what you know to be true. Saying yes to your yeses and no to your nos. Acknowledging that when you feel like you're banging your head against the wall, there's probably a better way. Tapping into and being guided by your inner knowing. That kind of surrender.

Elder is strongly associated with the Feminine, which is quite comfortable with surrender, and one with ancient magical symbolism. Many folkloric traditions speak of the Elder tree with fear, with tales of witches, death, and the devil. But if you look deeper, Elder tells the story of beginnings and endings, death and regeneration, and transformation. Elder spirit guards the crossroads, the in-betweens, the thresholds. Death is actually a symbol of rebirth, change, transmutation, and initiation. A shedding of the old to make space for the new. And what a perfect time to invite in the new than at Beltane, when the Elder trees are in flower, when the belfires are burning hot to purge away anything no longer serving who you are at your core. 

What are the herbal energetics of Elderflower?

Elderflower is a relaxing diaphoretic, which means it stimulates persperation and increases peripheral circulation (i.e. circulation throughout your limbs) to not only help cool the body, but also relaxes the exterior. Meaning, if you have a bunch of trapped heat in your center, a relaxing diaphoretic like Elderflower can help release that trapped heat out through your pores. Have you ever noticed that, often, when you're anxious your hands and feet get cold? Me too. Elderflower is one of my favorite herbs for that because rather than simply telling your nervous system to relax, which rarely works for many people, it goes straight to where the tension is held and releases it. Cool, eh?

But one of my favorite ways to work with Elderflower is in skincare. The flowers of the Elder tree are incredibly anti-inflammatory, which leaves us with a BROAD range of medicines to make with it. Infuse it in a carrier oil like Sweet Almond oil for a massage oil for achy, swollen joints or make the oil into a face cream for irritated skin conditions like rosacea or eczema. I've been using Elderflower tea on my scalp and the hydrosol to hydrate my skin (which has a hard time in the in-between of seasonal transitions). 

One thing I emphasize in my work with plants is Right Relationship. Meaning, it's not about what I'm getting from them or what they can do for me. That kind of thinking is short-sighted, and for those of us who are working for a paradigm that is more Whole and holistically healthy, looking to herbs for their health benefits falls flat. Instead, the real medicine comes from spending time with the plants. Listening to their wisdom. Asking questions. Observing how they exist in the world in the most perfect balance, which means ever-evolving. 

Elder has been teaching me about death. About its surrender, its beauty, its space, and about the careful cultivation of life that necessitates death. That the in-between can be (and often is) uncomfortable, sad, frustrating, and confusing. And the waves and contractions that we feel are there to propel us forward and reveal potential. 

If you're curious about working more with Elderflower in all its various facets and forms, the Beltane Wild Medicine Bundle is available until Wednesday, 4/19. After that, it'll go into hibernation until after Beltane. 

If you purchase the bundle by the 19th as a Wild Medicine Keeper, you also get:

  • $10 discount on your bundle
  • E-book with product write-ups, ideas for Beltane rituals, recipes that don't end up being made for bundle products, and a guided journey with Elder
  • Behind-the-scenes emails with photos, bloopers (yes, there are occasionally accidents in the apothecary), and you'll hear from me sharing a bit about my creative process for making the bundles.
  • An opportunity to win a space in the Wild Medicine Keepers for the next Wild Medicine Bundle, a Midsummer celebration!