Elm trees are featured throughout the world’s mythology and folklore. The elm is presented as more sinister than many other trees that are mentioned in myth. It has a strong connection with death and the underworld.
In Greek mythology , the bard Orpheus broke a vow, causing his wife, Eurydice, to spend eternity in the underworld. Orpheus had rescued her and had been instructed by Hades, god of the underworld, not to turn back to look at her. He could not help himself and broke the promise, so she returned to death. The ﬁrst elm tree is said to have sprouted on the spot where she met this fate.
Celtic mythology associated elm trees with the underworld, as well as with the otherworld of faerie. Elms were said to grow near any passages leading out of this world to either the underworld or the otherworld.
May Day dances in Britain were held around the so-called Dancing Elms of Devon. These celebrations were strongly linked to fertility, so elm trees were linked to both life and death.
The wych elm, a species also known as Scots elm, was not named for any association with witchcraft. The ancient word wych refers
to elm wood’s pliability. But folk belief still claimed that witches shunned elm trees.
People have always been wary of elm trees, due to their habit of dropping large boughs without warning. In time, a folk belief evolved that the trees deliberately dropped their limbs and tried to kill humans below. The saying “Elm hateth man, and waiteth” arose from this belief. Another claimed that “elum do hate” those who walk out late.
Elm trees also have folk medicinal values. The inner bark is still used to treat colds and sore throats, while boiled bark was sometimes used to treat burns.