(Sambucus ebulus) Tradition had it that dwarf elder grew only where blood had been shed. A Welsh name translates "plant of the blood of man", and there are also relevant names in English, like Bloodwort and Deathwort. It is associated in England with the Danes - wherever their blood was shed in battle, this plant afterwards sprang up. Camden wrote in 1586: "And in those parts in this country which are opposite to Cambridgeshire, lyes Barklow, famous for four great barrows ... And the Wallwort or Dwarf-elder that grows hereabouts in great plenty, and bears red berries, they call by no other name but Dane's-blood, denoting the multitude of Danes that were slain". Wallwort, incidentally, has nothing to do with walls. The OE name was wealhwyrt, and it means a foreign plant (the root appears again in walnut, and for various plants described as Welsh. Some Somerset people used to say that dwarf elder gets its noxious properties (the berries are toxic) from growing on the graves of the Danes (Lawrence). The fact that the stems turn red in September presumably gave rise to these traditions (Grigson).
Dwarf elder has been used for medicinal purposes for a very long time. Apuleius knew about it, and in the Anglo-Saxon version of his herbal, it is recommended for three ailments, "in case that stones wax in the bladder, for rent of snake, and for water sickness" (Cockayne), dropsy, that is. In the same collection is mentioned a way of treating piles, which was to heat a quern stone, to lay on top of it and underneath it dwarf elder, mugwort, and brooklime, and then to apply cold water, having the patient poised so that the steam "reeks upon the man, as hot as he can endure it". Gerard repeated the dropsy treatment ("the roots ... boiled in wine and drunken."), and the cure is still recommended by herbalists (Conway), who also prescribe the root tea for kidney ailments. It seems that the Welsh medical text known as the Physicians of Myddfai is referring to dropsy in the prescription: For pain in the feet and swelling in the legs. Take the roots of dwarf elder, and remove the bark, boiling it well, then pound them in a mortar with old lard, and apply as a plaster to the diseased part. "With Buls tallow, or Goats suet this is a remedie for the gout" -"Dr Bullen's remedie for the goute", according to Aubrey. In the Balkans, boils used to be treated with a leaf decoction of dwarf elder, used both externally and internally (Kemp).
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