Elder has been called “the medicine chest of the country people.” Its flowers, berries, and leaves all have benefits for the body. I also had a little chat with it (more about that shortly!)
Elder shrubs, Sambucus nigra, produce lacey white clouds of flowers in the summer. Then in late Summer (February for those of us in the Southern hemisphere), the flowers morph into beautiful dark purple berries. Fresh berries can have a laxative or emetic effect for some folk so I suggest cooking them to nullify this effect.
Elder is the primary herb I use for working with cold and flu, alongside Andrographis (acute use only) and Echinacea (better as a preventative, but can be used in acute conditions). Elderberry is particularly effective when started in the early stages i.e. that first tickle of the throat, when you're just starting to feel "under the weather".
Elderberries bring up phlegm, alleviate bronchitis, and reduce fever (as do the elder flowers). A few times a year I make a syrup from fresh or dried elderberries to support my family through cold and flu season. They clear stuffed ears and sinuses and bring warmth to the body.
For a monograph on Elderberry and the plant spirit guidance I have received from this wonderful plant, read on...
𝘼𝙆𝘼: Black Elderberry, European Elderberry, European Elder
𝙎𝙥𝙚𝙘𝙞𝙚𝙨: Sambucus nigra, Sambucus canadensis.
𝘾𝙤𝙣𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙩𝙪𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙨: Anthocyanins, flavonoids, essential oil, ascorbic acid, phosphorus, vitamins A, B6 and C and most of the amino acids
𝙀𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙜𝙚𝙩𝙞𝙘𝙨: Cool, drying, slightly sweet, bitter. In Ayurvedic terms the berries and flowers decrease Pitta and clear excess Kapha, reducing inflammation and excess phlegm. In TCM it is cooling with an affinity for liver and lung meridians.
𝘾𝙪𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙖𝙧𝙮: This berry has a rich, complex taste that can be used in chutneys, wine and of course elderberry syrup, which I make to get us through cold and flu season. My recipe features additional cinnamon and ginger for enhanced warming, diaphoretic and circulatory stimulating effect.
𝙈𝙚𝙙𝙞𝙘𝙞𝙣𝙚: Elder is the primary herb I use for working with cold and flu, alongside Echinacea. Elderberry helps with a plethora of symptoms including sore throat, coughing, congestion, fever, nausea and diarrhoea that go hand-in-hand with cold and flu season. They bring up phlegm, alleviate bronchitis, and reduce fever (as do the elder flowers). A few times a year I make a syrup from fresh or dried elderberries to support my family through cold and flu season. They clear stuffed ears and sinuses and bring warmth to the body.
Elders are very high in polyphenols and anthocyanins, both potent antioxidants. Polyphenols play an important role in preventing the progression of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, etc. Anthocyanins are responsible for the red, blue, purple or black colouring of fruit/ plants. Both these antioxidants work to keep the immune system strong and resilient. The plant is also high in compounds with a wide range of antiviral activity.
- Immune enhancing
The first time I found a group of Elder trees, I was so excited that I brusquely picked a bunch of flowers from a small sapling. Immediately I got the sense that I ought to leave the tree alone! Its mother, a much larger elder tree stood over me and I realised I hadn’t asked permission to pick flowers from her child. In the same way Elder protects and fortifies the immune systems of children and adults alike, Elder is very protective of her children.
Yesterday on a sunny February afternoon I picked the berries from a cluster of elders heaving with fruit (after asking permission!). As I picked I tuned in to notice the tree exhaling near-audible sounds of relief. For anyone who has breastfed, it seemed much like the feeling of expressing milk when your breasts are engorged. Each time I’ve tuned into Elder, the message has been loud and clear: “take what you need, as long as you respectfully ask first.”
Judith Berger says “The elder is considered a magical and holy tree by various cultures of western and northern Europe. Truly ancient, vestiges of her existence have been found at Stone Age sites. In Denmark, it was said that a dryad, called Hylde-Moer, the elder tree mother, dwelled in the branches of the tree and watched over it.”
Always consult a qualified herbalist or naturopath when using herbal medicines to ensure safety and suitability to your unique needs.