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May 2017--Elder

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sambucus nigra


Sambucus nigra
sam-BYOO-kus  NY-gruh]
 S. Canadensis)

Family: Caprifoliaceae 

Names: Yakori Bengestro, Devil's Eye, Lady Elder, Frau Holle, Rob Elder, Hollunder, Ellhorn, Pipe Tree, Boure Tree, Bour Tree, Sweet Elder, Tree of Doom, Old Lady, Battree, Old Gal; Schwarzer Holunder (German);  sureau noir (French); sambreo, sambuco (Italian); sauco (Spanish); busine (Russian); Bez Czarny, Dziki bez czarny (Polish) 

Description: Small tree with many small trunks rising directly from the ground.  Grows to 30 feet.  Flowers are tiny (1/5 inch, white, in large, saucerlike umbels, to 8 inches.  Leaves are dull green, divided into slender leaflets to 3 1/2 inches.  Fruit are clusters of deep purple-black, round fruit that is juice when ripe.  Blooms in June.   

Cultivation: It is a perennial to Zone 5.  Germination is in 10-20 days.  Soak seed 2 months at 60-65F, stratify then sprout at 40F.  Space 10 feet from each other, or grow smaller herbs beneath it.  Soil temperature 65-70F; soil nitrogen-rich, moist or with high water table.  pH: 5.5-7.5.  Partial shade preferred or full sun.  Compost around the base of the plants is ideal for continued health and productivity.   Also sow ripe berries 1 inch deep in a pot outdoors.  Plant seedlings out in a semi-shaded position when large enough.   Usually propagated by cuttings or sometimes root division of young plants.  Flowers with the supporting peduncle are harvested as they are just starting to open, usually in early summer.  They should never be harvested soon after they have gotten wet as this will cause them to blacken.  Flowers are harvested with pruning shears.  Fruits with the peduncle are harvested in the fall by hand when they are ripe and juice.  A harvest is usually possible the second or third year after planting.  Flowers should be dried carefully with as little bruising as possible.  Bruised flowers that are stuffed too much while harvested can turn brown.  Drying time is 7 to 10 days.  Flowers are about 80% water.  After drying, if you want just flowers, they are garbled and separated from the peduncle, which is discarded. The color should be the same yellow-white that existed when they are harvested.  The berries are dried with the peduncle in place, so as not to lose juice, and then garbled like the flowers.  The fruits are approximately 75% water. 

History: The origin of the generic name is not clear; it may either have Aegean or Etruscan roots or it may refer to an ancient wind instrument, the sambuca.  Elder has been used at least since the ancient Egyptians discovered that applying its flowers improved the complexion and healed burns.  The ancient Romans also used elder.  Called "the medicine chest of the country people" by Europeans, elder has a rich folklore.  Mandrake is probably the only herb that has more stories associated with it. 

            Legend has it that Judas Iscariot was hung from gallows made of elder and that the cross on which Christ died was of the same wood.  Therefore, it was never used in the construction of such things as baby cradles.  In England, elders were frequently planted near cottages to protect the inmates from lightning and from witches; elder branches were nailed over barns and stables, often in the form of a cross, to ward off evil influences; and the drivers of hearses carried whips of elder wood as a protection against spirits and death, while branches of elder were buried in graves to protect the dead themselves from evil spirits.

            In Russia, the peasants believed that the elder was proof against bad spirits, and the Serbs carried a piece of elder at weddings for good luck.  It was thought that a child beaten with an elder twig would be dwarfed, and that the tree was narcotic and dangerous to sleep under.  Another belief was that an elder tree would only flourish near a house in which happy people lived.  In Bohemia, a spell recited before an elder tree was believed to cure fever.  In many parts of England, knots made from elder twigs were carried as charms against rheumatism.

            Bad luck will surely come your way if your burn green elder.  In parts of England, it was believed that doing so would invite the Devil to enter your house through the chimney.  Elder wood will cause a fire in the fireplace to die out if placed upon it.  You must apologize three times to an elder when pruning it or cutting it down, otherwise bad luck will befall you.  A wound caused by an elder bush was thought to be fatal.  Furniture made of elder wood is unlucky and elder sticks brought into the house will cause illness in the family and misfortune.  On the other hand it offers protection against all forms of evil, saddle sores and lightning. And the leaves repel hexes and curses when they are gathered on the last day of April and worn or carried as a charm.  To see elder in a dream is an omen of sickness in the near future.  It was once believed that if a person was baptized and his eyes anointed with green juice of its inner bark, that person could recognize witches whenever he saw them.  Elderberries gathered on St. John’s Night, were part of a mystic rite to make a person invisible.  

Properties: Flowers: expectorant, reduces phlegm, circulatory stimulant, promote sweating, diuretic, topically anti-inflammatory. 
Berries: promote sweating, diuretic, laxative;
Bark: purgative, promotes vomiting, diuretic and topically an emollient. 

Constituents: Flowers: essential oil, flavonoids (rutin, quercertin), phenolic acids, triterpenes, sterols, mucilage, tannins, alkaloids, anthocyanins, vitamin C.  Berries: flavonoids, sugar, fruit acid, vitamins A and C. 

Energetics: Flowers/Berries: bitter, drying, cool, slightly sweet; bark is hot, bitter and drying 

Meridians/Organs affected:  lungs, liver (flowers) 

Medicinal Uses:  The berries help coughs, colic, sore throats, asthma and flu.  A pinch of cinnamon makes the tea more warming.  The berries have also been taken for rheumatism and erysipelas.  They are mildly laxative and also help diarrhea. 
             The flowers are infused for fevers, eruptive skin conditions such as measles and severe bronchial and lung problems.
  The infusion is relaxing and produces a mild perspiration that helps to reduce fever.  The flowering tops tone the mucous linings of the nose and throat, increasing their resistance to infection.  They are prescribed for chronic congestion, allergies, ear infections and candidiasis.  Infusions of the flowering tops and other herbs can reduce the severity of hay fever attacks if taken for some months before the onset of the hay fever season.   A classic flu remedy is a mixture of elderflower, yarrow and peppermint teas.

By encouraging sweating and urine production, elder flowering tops promote the removal of waste products from the body and are of value in arthritic conditions. 
The specific compounds in elder flowers have not been well established for the diuretic and laxative properties.  The compound sambuculin A and a mixture of alpha- and beta-amyrin palmitate have been found to exhibit strong antihepatotoxic activity against liver damage induced experimentally by carbon tetrachloride.
The bark’s energetics are bitter and toxic.  Only bark that has been aged for a year or more should be used or cyanide poisoning may result.  The Western species are more toxic.
This herb has two compounds that are active against flu viruses.  It also prevents the virus from invading respiratory tract cells.  A patented Israeli drug (Sambucol) that contains elderberry is active against various strains of viruses.  It also stimulated the immune system and has shown some activity in preliminary trials against other viruses, such as Epstein-Barr, herpes and even HIV. 

Flower infusion: drink hot for feverish and mucous conditions of the lungs or upper respiratory tract, including hay fever.
  Can be combined with yarrow, boneset and peppermint
Flower Tincture: take for colds and influenza, or in early spring to help reduce later hay fever symptoms
Flower Cream: apply to chapped skin and sores on the hands or to chilblains
Flower Eyewash: use the cold, strained infusion for inflamed or sore eyes
Flower Mouthwash/gargle: use the infusion for mouth ulcers, sore throats and tonsillitis
Syrup: make from the decoction and take as a prophylactic for winter colds or in combination with other expectorant herbs, such as thyme for coughs.
Tincture: use in combination with other herbs, such as bogbean or willow for rheumatic conditions. 

Tonsillitis Gargle
1 Tbsp elderberry fruit juice
1 Tbsp sumac extract
1 tsp echinanea root extract
Combine the above ingredients and gargle, as needed.

Cough and Cold Formula
1 tsp elderflowers
1 tsp yarrow flowers
1 cup boiling water
Combine the herbs in a nonmetallic container and cover with one cup of boiling water; steep for 20 minutes and strain.  Drink hot every two hours, as neede

Elderberry Tincture with Glycerin
1 cup vegetable glycerin (available at many health foods stores)
1 cup water
1/2 pound dried elderberries
         Place the dried elderberries in a quart glass jar and pour the glycerin over the berries. Place a lid on the jar and keep it in a cool, dark place such as the pantry for 6 weeks. Gently shake the jar daily to keep the berries from settling.  Strain the mixture through a colander or cheesecloth, squeezing out all of the liquid from the berries. This can be stored in the pantry in an air-tight container, or in the refrigerator, for 5-6 months. It makes about 2 cups. Most people use 4 teaspoons daily at the first signs of cold or flu.

HOMEOPATHIC: Used for conditions accompanied by profuse perspiration and suffocative coughs that are worse around midnight. 

CAUTIONS: Do not use the bark in pregnancy as it is very strongly purgative

 Cosmetic: Elder flowers in cosmetics and skin washes refine the complexion and help relieve eczema and psoriasis.  It also makes a gentle and soothing eyebath for strained and tired eyes.  Used regularly, it helps to bleach freckles. 

Elderflower Water
5 cups elderflowers; 1 1/4 cups boiling water
Pick the blossoms when fully open, but still fresh.  Snip away all the little stalks.  Measure the flowers into a bowl, pour on the boiling water, cover and leave to infuse for two or three hours. Strain into a jug and pour into small bottles.

Honeyed Yogurt Cleansing Cream
16 Tbsp natural yogurt
5 Tbsp washed elderflower heads
2 1/2 Tbsp clear honey, melted
Place the yogurt and elderflower heads in a pan on a very low heat and simmer for thirty minutes.  Remove from the heat and leave to steep for five hours.  Then reheat the mixture, strain and ad the melted honey. Whip together for several minutes, bottle, label and refrigerate. Apply generously over face and neck and clean off with cotton balls.

Elder hand cream
Heat a pot of petroleum jelly until it liquefies. Pour into a saucepan and add to it several handsful of fresh elder flowers.  Leave for about 40 minutes, gently reheating as it cools.  Pout through a sieve while still warm and pour the liquid into jars to solidify.  Rub on the hands at bedtime and sleep in an old pair of cotton gloves. 

Complexion Milk
Blanch 4 oz sweet almonds and remove the skins.
  Place in a mortar and pound, using a pint of elder flower water to create a thin emulsion.  Put through a muslin sieve, allowing it plenty of time to run through.  In a separate pan over a very low flame, place a cupful of elder flower water and into it shave a small tablet of white soap, stirring until it melts.  Then slowly add 1/2 each spermaceti and white beeswax.  This allows time for their partial saponification by the soap.  Place the mixture in the mortar and allow the almond emulsion to trickle into it very slowly, blending it carefully.  With equal care, work in 1/2 pint of alcohol, strain and bottle.

Elderflower Anti-Dandruff Hair Rinse
4 handfuls fresh elderflowers
2 pints water
2 pints cider vinegar
Boil the elderflowers in the water, cover and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and infuse for an hour.  Strain and ad the cider vinegar.  Bottle.  Leave for 48 hours before use.  After washing your hair, add half a pint to the final rinse water. 

Kaolin Foot Powder
3 ½ oz kaolin
1 oz rice flour
1 oz club moss spores
1 oz elder leaves
1 oz sage leaves
50 drops peppermint oil
30 drops thyme oil
Put the sage and elder leaves in a blender and run it for a minute at low speed and a minute at high speed.  Using a fine, mesh sieve, strain the resulting powder two tablespoons at a time and use only the finest part.  Put all the ingredients in a bottle, jar or plastic container and shake them.  Add the essential oil using a dropper and shake the mixture as you go.  Massage small quantities into the feet or dust socks or shoes with it.  (Natural Beauty)

Elder after shave lotion
Pour 1 pint of boiling water onto 2 large handfuls of elder flowers placed in a bowl.  Allow to soak for 12 hours, strain and bottle. Keep under refrigeration.

Household:.  Native Americans used flexible, hollow elder stems in basketmaking.  The black elder can be used as an insecticide in the garden or to repel insects from the face and body. A simple infusion of the fresh leaf is made for this purpose.  It can also be poured down mouse and mole holes.   Berries produce a deep blue dye, the leaves a green dye and the bark and roots a black dye

For Leaves: mordant--alum gives light yellow, chrome gives deep yellow.  Young leaves give a purer color than older ones.  Put 1 lb leaves in cold water and heat slowly. Simmer for ½  to 1 hour.  Strain off the leaves and cool the liquor.  Enter the clean, wetted wool and return to the simmer.  Simmer for 15-30 minutes.  Rinse the wool twice and dry.

For Berries:  mordant--alum gives violet which can be modified by adding salt to the dyebath or by a vinegar dip.  Put 2 lb berries in cold water and heat slowly.  Simmer for ½  to 1 hour.  Strain off the berries and cool the liquor. Enter the clean, wetted wool and return bath to the simmer.  Simmer for ½  hour o longer according to the depth of color desired.  Leave the wool to steep in the bath overnight.  Make more blue by adding a handful of salt to the bath while the wool is steeping overnight.

For Bark: mordant--iron gives gray.  Put 2 lb bark in cold water and heat slowly.  Simmer for 2 hours.  Strain off the bark and cool the liquor.  Enter the clean, wetted wool and return bath to the simmer.  Simmer for 1-2 hours.  Rinse the wool twice and dry. 

Ritual Uses: Gender: cold; Planet: Venus; Element: Air; Associated Deities: Hold, Venus; Basic Powers: Purification and Love.  The branches are often used for fashioning magic wands.  Panpipes are made of elder stems.  A dryad "Elder Mother" is said to live in the tree; she will haunt anyone who cuts down her wood.  Stand or sleep under an elder on Midsummer Eve to see the King of the Fairies and his retinue pass by.  The flowers are used in wish-fulfillment spells.  The leaves, flowers and berries are strewn on a person, place or thing to bless it.  Scatter berries and leaves to the four winds to protect.  The branches are often used for fashioning magic wands.  Stand beneath an elder and you will never be struck by lightning.   

2 parts rosemary
1 part juniper
1 part caraway seeds
1 part elder
1 pinch garlic
            Tie up in white cloth and hang over the front door to protect the home and its contents. 

             The elder tree is sacred to the Germanic witch spirit of love and magic, Hulda, affectionately known as Mother Holle.  Hulda is among the leaders of the Wild Hunt, that reveling procession os spirts and witches. Christian propaganda suggested that elder repelled witches, although apparaently no one troubled to inform Hulda or her witches, who use elder in abundance.  Pick elderberries on Midsummer’s Eve. Dry them and place over doors and windowsills to protect against evil. 
Hang elder branches over doors and within the home as magical protection.  Elder Protection Spell: soak thin branches to soften them.  Twist these elder branches into auspicious shapes: pentagrams, hexagrams, triangles, diamonds, or others.  Tie them in place with red or green cord, knotting your desires into the spell. 

Elder Domination Spell: Write the name of the person whom you wish to dominate on brown paper, ideally with Dragon’s Blood Ink.  Burn the paper; mix the ahses with an equal quantity of elder bark.  Mix the magical blend into seven little fabric bundles.  For the next seven consecutive nights, bury one packet on the path between you and your target.  By the last night, your target will allegedly be under your spell. 

LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS: Compassion; zealousness 

Other Uses: The plant is a valuable addition to the compost heap, its flowers being an alternative ingredient of 'QR' herbal compost activator and the roots of the plant improve fermentation of the compost heap when growing nearby.  
        The leaves are used as an insect repellent, being very effective when rubbed on the skin. They can be powdered and placed among plants to act as an insect deterrent, or made into a spray which acts as an insecticide. This is prepared by boiling 3 - 4 handfuls of leaves in a liter of water, then straining and allowing to cool before applying. Effective against many insects, it also treats various fungal infections such as leaf rot and powdery mildew. The dried flowering shoots are used to repel insects, rodents etc.
  The flowers are used in skin lotions, oils and ointments.
          A dye is obtained from the fruit and the bark. The bark of older branches and the root have been used as an ingredient in dyeing black.
 A green dye is obtained from the leaves when alum is used as a mordant. The berries yield various shades of blue and purple dyes. They have also been used as a hair dye, turning the hair black.
         The blue coloring matter from the fruit can be used as a litmus to test if something is acid or alkaline. It turns green in an alkaline solution and red in an acid solution.

The pith in the stems of young branches pushes out easily and the hollow stems thus made have been used as pipes for blowing air into a fire. They can also be made into musical instruments.  The pith of the wood is used for making microscope slides and also for treating burns and scalds. The mature wood is white and fine-grained. It is easily cut and polishes well. Valued highly by carpenters, it has many used, for making skewers, mathematical instruments, toys etc. 

Culinary: The flowers have a pleasant scent and go well with fruit salads, jellies and aromatized vinegars; they also possess a large amount of strongly scented nectar that can be used for making refreshing drinks.  Flowers are eaten raw or turned into fritters and the young buds can be pickled.  The flowers are attractive floating in a punch bowl.  The fruit is turned into a variety of jams, jellies, and conserves, as well as elderberry wine.  It contains more vitamin C than any herb, except rosehips and black currant.   

Elderberry Soup
1½ lb elderberries
¾ oz cornflour
4 oz sugar
grated rind of ½ lemon

2 pints water
Place the elderberries and lemon rind in the water and simmer until tender.  Stir in the sugar and remove from the heat.  Blend the cornflour with a little water to form a smooth paste.  Gradually add this to the soup, then bring back to the boil stirring continuously until it thickens. (Nature’s Wild Harvest)

Elderberry Pickle
1 lb elderberries
1 small onion
2 Tbsp sugar
½ pint vinegar
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp mixed spice
pinch of salt
Place the elderberries in a pan and mash them well.  Chop the onion and add with all the other ingredients to the berries.  Bring to the boil and simmer slowly until the mixture thickens.  Stir continuously to stop the mixture sticking to the pan.  Pour immediately into hot sterilized jars and seal.  (Nature’s Wild Harvest)

Elderflower crepes
1 cup sifted flour
a pinch of salt
1 stripped head of elderflowers
1 tsp sugar
½  tsp grated orange peel
2 eggs
  cups milk
2 Tbsp melted butter
juice of 1 orange
melted honey
Mix together the flour, salt, elderflowers, sugar and orange peel.  Ad the eggs, beat well, then gradually add the milk, beating all the time. Leave to stand for at least 30 minutes.  Stir in the melted butter.  Grease a heavy pan and heat until it is very hot.  Using a tablespoonful of batter for each, cook the pancakes, tipping the pan, until the pancake is thin, lacey and patterned with gold.  Turn over and cook the other side.  Pile on a hot plate above the oven.  Roll up each pancake and sprinkle with orange juice and melted honey.  Whole elderflower heads can be dipped in batter and fried as fritters.  (The Complete Book of Herbs and Spices)

Elderflower Muffins
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
2 tsp baking power
½ tsp salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ cups elderflowers
2 Tbsp sweet (unsalted) butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup orange juice
Preheat oven to 400F.  Sift together dry ingredients into a bowl.  Toss in flowers.  In a separate bowl, mix butter, egg, buttermilk and orange juice.  Add wet mixture to dry, stirring only until dry ingredients are moistened. Grease muffin tins.  Fill each cup 2/3 with batter.  Bake 20-25 minutes until muffins are lightly brown.  (Edible Flowers from Garden to Palate)

Blue Gate Farm Elderberry Cordial
3 1/2 pints water
4 1/2 pounds sugar
2 3/4 oz citric acid
1/4 tsp dry lemon peel
2/3 cup lemon juice
*can replace 2 above ingredients with 2 washed and sliced lemons
40 heads elderflowers (stems clipped as short as possible)
            Boil first four ingredients in a large pan with a lid.  Remove from heat and add lemon juice & elderflowers. Cover and allow to sit for 3 days.  Strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth.  To use, mix with seltzer or water and ice at 1:8 or to taste.  Store unused portions in the refrigerator, or freeze for longer

Elderberry Syrup
1 1/2 cups freshly-picked berries (or substitute 3/4 cup dried organic berries)
3 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups honey - raw, local honey if available
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
3-4 whole cloves
1 large piece candied ginger (or substitute 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger)
          Combine everything but the honey and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and slowly simmer for about 25 minutes.  Using a potato masher, crush the berries and set aside to cool for several hours. Strain, discarding solids, then add the honey and mix to dissolve. This makes approximately 4 cups of syrup and can be stored in the refrigerator for about 8 weeks. This can also be frozen in ice cube trays for longer storage and taken out as needed.

Elderberry sparkling Wine
5 Lt. water
500 gr. sugar
10 to 15 elderberry blossoms
2 lemons
       Clean flowers cutting out the most of the branches and leave to soak in the water for 24 to 72 hours, alternating the flowers with one lemon cut in slices.  Filter and carefully strain the flowers as much as you can. Now stir in (at cold) the sugar until it is completely dissolved and add the juice of the second lemon.
3. Cover with a cloth and leave for 3 more days to ferment in the sun or until you see the first bubbles come up.  Bottle airtight into (sparkling) wine bottles, leaving a 7 cm from bottle cap to avoid bottles to break under bubbles' pressure.  Now leave two more weeks in sunlight or at a warm place, then the wine is ready to be tasted. If you do not use all bottles transfer them to a cool place.   This sparkling wine becomes slightly alcoholic.

A Witch’s Brew
, Patricia Telesco, Llewellyn, 1995; ISBN: 1-56718-708-0
All Good Things Around Us
, Pamela Michael, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980; ISBN: 0-03-057296-7
The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices
, Sarah Garland, Viking; 1979; ISBN: 0-671-05575-5
The Complete Medicinal Herbal
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Cordials from Your Kitchen
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Cosmetics from the Earth
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A Druid's Herbal
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Dyes from Plants
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Edible Flowers from Garden to Palate
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The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
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Food from the Countryside
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, Geraldene Holt, Henry Holt, 1992; ISBN: 0-8050-1988-X
The Green Pharmacy
, James A. Duke, Rodale, 1997; ISBN: 0-87596-316-1
Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not so Wild) Places
, Steve Brill with Evelyn Dean; Hearst Books; 1994; ISBN: 0-688-11425-3
The Illustrated Herb Encyclopedia
, Kathi Keville, Mallard Press, 1991; ISBN: 0-7924-5307-7
Magical Herbalism
, Scott Cunningham, Llewellyn; 1982; ISBN: 0-87542-120-2
Mastering Herbalism
, Paul Huson, Stein and Day, 1975; ISBN: 0-8128-1847-4
Medicinal Herbs in the Garden, Field & Marketplace
, Lee Sturdivant and Tim Blakley, 1998; San Juan Naturals; ISBN: 0-9621635-7-0
Natural Beauty
, Aldo Facetti, Fireside Books, 1991; ISBN: 0-671-74691-X
The Natural Beauty Book
, Anita Guyton, Thorsons, 1991; ISBN: 0-7225-2498-6
Nature’s Wild Harvest
, Eric Soothill & Michael J. Thomas, 1990, Blanford, ISBN: 0-7137-2226-6
The Review of Natural Products,
1992, Facts and Comparisons
Secret Native American Herbal Remedies
, Anthony J Cichoke, Avery Books, 2001; ISBN: 1-58333-100-X
Wicca Garden
, Gerina Dunwich, Citadel Press; 1996; ISBN: 0-8065-1777-8
The Wild Gourmet
, Babette Brackett & Maryann Lash, David R. Godine, 1975; ISBN: 0-87923-142-4 

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The Herb Growing & Marketing Network
Maureen Rogers, Director
PO Box 245, Silver Spring, PA 17575-0245
717-368=6360; FAX: 717-393-9261