“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes,” wrote Arthur Conan Doyle in The Hound of the Baskervilles. He could well have been talking about the familiar flowers and trees we pass by every day and take no notice of, dismissing them as unimportant weeds, bothersome branches and troublesome leaves to be raked in the fall. But if we took a moment to look a bit closer, we’d see that our common local plants have some very interesting stories to tell. Here’s a brief look at six such stories.
ELDERBERRY. PERHAPS THE FIRST CULTIVATED PLANT.
Researchers have uncovered evidence that the black elderberry may have been cultivated by prehistoric man, and there are recipes for elderberrybased medications in records dating as far back as Ancient Egypt.
Historians, however, generally trace the tradition of the elderberry’s healing power back to Hippocrates, the ancient Greek known as the “father of medicine,” who described this plant as his “medicine chest” for the wide variety of ailments it seemed to cure.
Over the centuries, elderberry has been used to treat colds, flu, fever, burns, cuts, and more than 70 other maladies, from toothache to the plague. In the 17th century, John Evelyn, a British researcher, declared, “If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark, and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countryman could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy (from the elderberry), either for sickness or wounds.”
There has been a legend since medieval times that the cross of Jesus Christ was made of elder wood and that Judas hanged himself on an elder tree, which is why “Judas Tree” is one of elderberry’s names.