Elder trees have some really interesting folklore associated with them. They’re often thought of as a witch’s tree, and it is generally considered very bad luck to burn them. For Pagans, the bad luck aspect is often understood in terms of the aforementioned witches, or a sense that this is a goddess tree.
What happens when you burn elder? (I do these dangerous things so you don‘t have to!)
It’s not something I’ve ever done deliberately. However, I’ve been involved with enough community bonfires, where cut elder has been thrown in. I also lived on a boat for a couple of years, and we often burned foraged wood in the woodstove. Wood cut to keep the towpath clear was often just left where it fell, and many an impoverished boater has got through the winter a bit more easily thanks to this, but I digress.
Most of the wood foraging fell to my other half, who is American. He’s come to British tree recognition late in life, and so elder would get into the firewood pile.
Elder doesn’t burn easily. If there’s a small amount of elder in a big fire, you can get it to burn. If there’s a fair amount of elder in a very small fire, there’s every chance your fire will go out.
The conclusion I draw is that the superstition is largely correct, in that if what you’ve got to burn is elder, you’re stuffed – it’s very unlucky to be stuck with elder to burn.
Image taken from the Woodland Trust website – find out more about elder trees here – http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/native-trees/elder/