The Elder, with its flat-topped masses of creamy-white, fragrant blossoms, followed by large drooping bunches of purplish-black, juicy berries, is a familiar object in English countryside and gardens. It has been said, with some truth, that the English summer has not arrived until the Elder is fully in flower, and that it ends when the berries are ripe.
The word ‘Elder’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld. In Anglo-Saxon days we find the tree called Eldrun, which becomes Hyldor and Hyllantree in the fourteenth century. One of its names in modern German – Hollunder – is clearly derived from the same origin. In Low-Saxon, the name appears as Ellhorn. Æld meant ‘fire,’ the hollow stems of the young branches having been used for blowing up a fire: the soft pith pushes out easily and the tubes thus formed were used as pipes – hence it was often called Pipe-Tree, or Bore-tree and Bour-tree, the latter name remaining in Scotland and being traceable to the Anglo-Saxon form, Burtre.
The generic name Sambucus occurs in the writings of Pliny and other ancient writers and is evidently adapted from the Greek word Sambuca, the Sackbut, an ancient musical instrument in much use among the Romans, in the construction of which, it is surmised, the wood of this tree, on account of its hardness, was used.
The most important constituent of Elder Flowers is a trace of semisolid volatile oil, present to the extent only of 0.32, per cent possessing the odour of the flowers. Elder Flower Water (Aqua Sambuci) was an official preparation of the British Pharmacopoeia.
Elderflower Water was a traditional remedy for clearing the complexion of freckles and sunburn, and keeping it in a good condition. Every lady’s toilet table possessed a bottle of the liquid, and she relied on this to keep her skin fair and white and free from blemishes.