Elder (Sambucus nigra) is commonly called Black or European Elder. The flowers and berries have a long history of use throughout the Western world as food and for it’s health benefits. In antiquity, the flowers were prized for cosmetic applications. Considered a plant of protection in the Middle Ages, the branches of this prolific, deciduous shrub were commonly placed above a doorway or threshold of a home to ward off evil spirits and protect the inhabitants. Elder was written about by historic healers such as Dioscorides, Galen, Pliny, and Hippocrates, and is still mentioned in many European pharmacopeias today.
Recipes abound for a variety of ways to use elder, including the delicious beverage, “Elder Flower Fizz,” which is easily made at home from fresh or dried blossoms. The mildly flavored flowers are common ingredients in other liqueurs, tisanes (teas), and tinctures. They can also be added to muffins, breads, pancakes, or other baked goods. The fresh flowers have a white umbel head cluster that is harvested in late spring or early summer at the peak of their bloom. A distilled hydrosol of the flowers, or a simple herbal tea, is often employed as a skin tonic and was used in the 1800s to lighten and even skin tone. It has slightly astringent, tonic, and skin conditioning effects per today’s European Commission Health and Consumers Directorate.
Elder flower is known to support the body’s natural fever response, soothe the skin, as an expectorant, and soothe digestive discomforts and more.
The deep-purple fruits are rich in protective and antioxidant anthocyanins, and can help support healthy recovery time after physical exertion. These berries are specifically employed to support the body’s natural immune response, soothe discomforts associated with colds and flu, promote healthy blood sugar levels and cardiovascular health. They have been well studied for it’s ability to support the immune system, a healthy inflammatory response, and more with numerous clinical research data published. The berries are used to make lozenges, cordials, wine, teas, and other food products. Syrup preparations and glycerite tinctures are delicious and safe for children, and are so tasty that children willingly take them without complaint.
Elder is often cultivated as an ornamental shrub with numerous cultivars available at most nurseries. The flowers and berries should never be eaten fresh; they contain a mildly toxic alkaloid that is destroyed with cooking. The Commission E Monographs list elder flower as safe and nontoxic, with no known drug interactions, restrictions, contraindications or drug interactions. The berry is considered a food.
Writer Mindy Green is a founding and professional member of the American Herbalists Guild and an advisory board member to the American Botanical Council, publisher of Herbal Gram Magazine. Ms. Green served on the faculty of the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies (1995-2003). The California School of Herbal Studies is among Mindy’s business ventures as co-owner and a faculty member (1985-1995). She is a nationally certified Registered Aromatherapist and has served on the education committees of the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists and the Aromatherapy Registration Council. She now runs her own consulting company, Green Scentsations, LLC.
A prolific writer and lecturer, Ms. Green has authored over 60 published articles on herbs, aromatherapy, skin care, holistic health and integrative care. She is co-author of Aromatherapy, A Complete Guide to the Healing Art; author of Calendula and Natural Perfumes, and has contributed to numerous books on herbs and healing. As a botanical-therapies expert, she has been interviewed more than 400 times by leading magazines and newspapers.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or to sell any product.