This week, we'll be looking into the medicinal attributes of Elder. The Latin name of the Elder tree is Sambucus nigra. Elder is also known as: black elder, boor tree, pipe-tree, and ellhorn. Elder can also be recognized more easily by the parts of it which are used most commonly: elder berries and elder flowers.
The Elder tree has been used medicinally for centuries throughout Europe. The oldest claim is perhaps its use by the Romans, who, among a variety of medicinal uses, used it to dye hair black. It has been common to eat the flowers or berries; make wine or syrup from the berries; make tea from the leaves, flowers, or inner bark; rub the bruised leaves on the skin; and make tea or tincture from the inner bark. At times, the root has also been used, although it is no longer common to use the bark or the root. So popular has this tree been medicinally that it was common to find Elder berry wine in restaurants and taverns in the Middle Ages. Similarly, Elder berries have a long tradition of being made into jams, jellies, chutneys, and other food preparations.
The Elder tree is native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, and is particularly common in England. It also grows well in North America. It is a small, deciduous tree often used for hedges in England. It has oval-shaped leaves, flat-topped cream-colored flowers, and purplish-blue berries. New branches grow green and turn white as they age. The Elder tree blooms in the early summer – June to July – and the fruit fills the tree shortly thereafter.
Most parts of the Elder, including the berries and flowers, are astringent, stimulant, diaphoretic (induces perspiration), diuretic, laxative, and relaxant. The berries are additionally emetic. Elder is known to purify the body in a variety of ways (diuretic, laxative, diaphoretic), and along with being astringent, is therefore a good cure for many illnesses, wounds, and skin conditions.
Elder flowers are distilled in water and the oil extracted for use in skin lotions and eye treatments. An infusion (tea) is also made from the flowers and is suitable for most treatments of Elder flower. Elder flowers can be prepared as an ointment for skin affections.
Fresh Elder berries are frequently made into syrup, cordial, or wine. The dried berries can be made into an infusion (tea).
Ailments which indicate treatment with Elder berries include: bronchitis, cold, influenza, asthma, sore throat, catarrh, colic, diarrhea, rheumatism, erysipelas, syphilis, epilepsy, and piles.
Ailments which indicate treatment with Elder flowers include: bronchitis, cold, influenza, cough, laryngitis, diabetes, arthritis-like pain, constipation, inflammation, skin irritations, blemishes and freckles.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and may interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
It is not recommended to take Elder if you are pregnant or breast-feeding; if you are taking a narcotic; or if you are going into surgery. Elder can also decrease blood sugar; it is not advised to take Elder if you are taking medications which lower blood sugar.
Latin Name: Sambucus nigra
Medicinal Actions: Astringent, Stimulant, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Laxative, Relaxant; berries are also Emetic.
Indications: bronchitis, cold, influenza, asthma, sore throat, catarrh, cough, laryngitis, colic, diarrhea, rheumatism, erysipelas, syphilis, epilepsy, piles, diabetes, arthritis-like pain, constipation, inflammation, skin irritations, blemishes and freckles.
Contraindications: pregnant, breastfeeding, taking narcotics, taking medications which lower blood sugar, going into surgery.
Elderberry Jam with Apples
1 lb elderberries
1 lb apples
¾ lb sugar
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
- Strip the berries from the stalks; peel, core and cut up the apples.
- Put the Elderberries into a pan over low heat and bruise them with a wooden spoon.
- When the juice begins to flow, add the Apples and one-third of the sugar and bring slowly to a boil.
- When quite soft, rub all through a hair sieve. Return the pulp to the pan; add the rest of the sugar, the grated lemon rind and juice, and boil for half an hour or until the jam sets when tested.
- Remove all scum and store in glass jars. For a longer shelf life, use canning jars and boil in hot water for 10 minutes. When you hear the lid “pop” after removing the jar from the pot, it is properly sealed.