Weekly Herb Review #2 – Elder

Common Names: Elder (Pipe Tree, Tree of Music, Hylde-Maer, and many more!)

Scientific Name: Sambucus Nigra (black elder), S. Canadensis (from Canada), S. Mexicana (from Mexico)

Family: Caprifoliaceae

Parts Used: Primarily Flower and Berry, but Bark and Leaf can also be used

Harvesting: Found near low, damp ground. Gently cut flower stalks and dry them facing down on a fine net. Pick the fruit in the autumn as they ripen.

Constituents/Nutrition: Flower .?igh in flavonoids, mucilage, tannins, phenolic acids, triterpenes, rich in Potassium. Berry .?igh in flavonoids, organic acids, sugars, vitamins C and B-complex, and cyanogenic glycosides and lectins in the seeds.

Properties/Actions: Expectorant, blood purifier, laxative, diuretic, refrigerant, purgative (bark and leaves). Immunomodulant and antiviral properties in berries due to lectins and cyanogenic glycosides.

Uses/Indications: Colds, flus, and coughs. Bronchitis, to clear congestion of lungs and sinuses, sore throats, allergies, upper respiratory and gastrointestinal inflammation, minor constipation. Leaves are also good for the complexion, for bruises, sprains and wounds. Flowers are good for infant fevers, and as an eyewash for conjunctivitis.

Folk History/Magical Uses: This plant is steeped in history and magic! The tree was used in ancient times as a musical instrument. The pith of the branches was removed to make flutes, pipes, and kids .?a-shooters.. The spirit of the elder tree commands much respect. So much so that some refused to cut or burn the tree. Many also believe that you will never be struck by lightening if you stand under the tree, and that Christ was crucified on elder wood. The tree is believed to be a tree of protection in many cultures and is carried close to the body for good luck and health. The wood is carved into wands for magic uses.

Cautions/Side Effects: The raw berries contain a small amount of poisonous alkaloids. So, it is best to cook them before eating them. The Red Elder is the most toxic, but having said that the side effect is mainly nausea.

Preparation/Dosage: Can be prepared as a tea, syrup, oil, salve, food, tincture, gargle and more! For a flower tea, use 2 tsp. Fresh or dried flowers. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over them and let steep for ~15 minutes before drinking.

Recipe: my Winter Elderberry Syrup for immune support:
? 3 cups fresh elderberries, or 1 cup dried berries
? 3 cups filtered water
? 1 1/2 cups honey
? 1 ounce fresh ginger root, grated
? Juice of 1 lime
? 1 ounce echinacea tincture (95% alcohol) optional

1. Combine berries, ginger and water in stainless steel or glass pot. Heat on medium until simmering.
2. Continue to gently simmer uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour, or until reduced in volume by half.
3. Remove from heat. Strain well through cheesecloth, squeezing the juice from the berries. Allow
decoction to cool slightly.
4. Measure liquid and combine with equal parts honey.
5. Add all the lime juice .
6. When cooled completely, add echinacea tincture.
7. Pour into glass jar, label with date, and store in the refrigerator for up to a year.
Take between one teaspoon and one tablespoon twice daily during the cold and flu season. For children ages 2-5, use half the adult dose. Dose for ages 6-12 is one teaspoon twice daily. Nursing mothers can take one tablespoon 5 minutes before nursing to pass the benefits along to the baby.

My Thoughts: I love this herb! The tree is beautiful and delicate looking, but its medicine packs a punch. I use the berries a lot in the winter. I always make a couple of quarts of elderberry syrup to go into the cooler seasons with. K loves it. Now that she is in a play-school a couple of times a week, she takes some elderberry syrup with her oatmeal in the morning or in a little water. It.?a great way to help the immunity in more stressful times (like the beginning of the school season!) We also take a Tbsp. of the syrup at the first signs of a cold and whenever we have symptoms.

Cunningham, S. 2000. Magical Herbalism. Llewellyn Publications, Minnesota.
Hoffman, D. 1990. The New Holistic Herbal. Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury. Magic and Medicine of Plants. 1990. Reader.?Digest Association, New York.
McVicar, J. 1994. The Complete Herb Book. Kyle Cathie Limited, London.
Onstad, D. 1996. Whole Foods Companion. Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont.
Skenderi, G. 2003. Herbal Vade Mecum. Herbacy Press, New Jersey.
Tierra, L. 2000. A Kid.?Herb Book. Reed Publishers, California.

This site has a huge amount of info on Elder, along with more recipes.

9 thoughts on “Weekly Herb Review #2 – Elder

  1. I understand that you are probably taking a minute amount of this daily, however I am curious as to your opinion regarding
    Echinacea. I have read that it should not be taken for more than 10 days at a time as after that is is less effective ?
    P.S. Congrats on all your new contacts and possibilities.

  2. Jamie, there are many different studies showing all kinds of things with echinacea. Some say that the efficacy is decreased after a week or two of usage. Some say that the immune response only gets better. I say, everything in moderation. If you are using echinacea for an acute condition (ie. cold, flu…) that’s great, but to use it long term because of chronic colds or something, I would rather get to the bottom of why someone is having chronic colds.

    So, having said that, we usually take the elderberry syrup when I know our family is prone to colds and we inevitably forget a day or two here and there. Usually we take it just before holidays, when we feel cold symptoms, or before taking trips. So we don’t take it everyday.

  3. I have read that you can make an elderberry tincture using the berries from sambucus nigra. You place the berries in 100 proof vodka. I know that wine can be made from elderberry. My question: From my reading elderberry has alkoids in them that can be rendered harmles by heating them. In your recipe its no problem since you use heat. Does the tincture have the same effect as heating.? What is a good recipe for such a tincture ?


  4. Hey Ralph, Good questions.

    From what I understand, all parts of the Elder plant have cyanogenic glycosides, some parts have alkaloids, and the seeds have irritating resins. But most of this is in such small amounts that it isn’t a problem. The main warning I have heard is to make sure the berries are ripe when you use them. So, making a tincture of fresh berries is no problem as long as they are ripe. (Many people suggest always cooking your berries just incase the unripe ones were harvested.) I would use a 50% alcohol solution, like vodka, (1:2 for fresh berries, 1:5 for dried if you are using the scientific method of tincturing). I have also read about juicing the ripe berries and adding 25% alcohol to preserve the juice.

    Here’s another herbalists account of working with Elder: http://www.henriettesherbal.com/blog/?p=432

  5. I have read that you need twice as much honey to elderberry to prolong shelf life. Is this true? How long would recipe’s shelf life be? If you use dried berries, do you have to recostitute them first? Also, what about the flowers? Can you add the flowers to this recipe?
    Thank you,

  6. For my syrup, I use equal parts, or less, honey. It’s just too sweet for me if there is more. Then I just keep it in the fridge and use it over the next 6 months to a year. To make the shelf life longer, one thing that you can do is add enough alcohol to make-up 25% of the final solution. Then you have “preserved” it. You can used dried or fresh berries in the same way in this formula. The dried ones get reconstituted by adding water and making the syrup. And, yes, adding flowers to the formula would be really nice!!! I would toss them in toward the end of the simmering so that you don’t over cook them. Then let them steep for ~20 minutes, while the syrup cools, before straining them out.

  7. Dried ginger root is definitely medicinal! You can make a tincture, tea, oil, syrups, etc… how you use it and how much would all depend on what you were using it for. I add a tiny amount of ginger to my tincture formulas as a catalyst. I also add it to honey to give the honey a spicy kick. It’s good for people who are cold, have stagnancies, digestive issues, and much more!

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