The elder tree is a familiar sight in the Scottish hedgerow, with its flat-topped clusters of delicate cream flowers in late spring, followed by bunches of purple-black berries in autumn. It has perhaps the greatest number of practical uses of any plant, and a wealth of folklore and superstition surrounds it.
The bramble, as the common blackberry is known in Scotland, is a hedgerow stalwart. I’m sure many Scots of my generation will remember family days out to pick brambles on a late summer’s day, fingertips dyed crimson and wrists and ankles bearing at least one deep scratch, no matter how careful you’d been. The custom of bramble picking goes back thousands of years, and this humble plant, bane of gardeners everywhere, is steeped in folklore.
Scotland’s history is rich with plant lore, and archaeological evidence dates the earliest recorded use of natural remedies in the country to the bronze age. As recently as a few hundred years ago, most ailments were relieved by concoctions of herbs and plants and the healer’s medicine cabinet was stocked entirely from nature. Many of the stories of Scotland’s defining moments are punctuated with mentions of plants and flowers, and the folklore associated with them is woven into the history of the country.