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Nature Watch, by Trevor Beer

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 11, 2014


Trevor Beer

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I passed the house recently where I grew up and it is looking well kept and nicely painted. Marks from former iron railings still show in the stone walls and I well remember the days when workmen came and took them away during the Second World War. Not far from the cottages are elder trees in a hedge and my mother hung elder leaves in the kitchen to keep flies away. Leaves picked on May Day Eve cured toothache and wounds inflicted by adders, and apparently, bites from mad dogs.

Country folk also used to whip fruit trees and cabbages with an elder wand to rid them of blight and branches would be placed by a graveside to keep evil spirits away. Elder stakes were sometimes used during hedge laying and an old country saying goes, “An eldern stake and a blackthorn ether will make a hedge last forever”. An ether is the wound made where the underwood was cut when the hedge was being layered, or steeped as some folk call it.

We have a wooden spoon made from elder and the wood was also used for tool handles. Prized for home wine making the berries also add a pleasant flavour to stewed apple.

Farmers often carried bits of elder to thrust into the soil where there were gaps in hedges.

This year I am going to choose a length of hedge and record all I find in it, both flora and fauna.

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