Sambucus canadensis, S. mexicana, S. nigra
Common Names: Elder, Elderberry, Black Elder, Mountain Elder, Sambu
Part/s Used: Flowers, berries
Energetics: Flowers: cooling / Berries: warming
Taste: Flowers: sweet, astringent, salty / Berries: sweet, sour
Actions: Flowers: diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal. Berries: diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative. Bark: emetic, diuretic. Leaves: external emollient, vulnerary and internally as purgative, expectorant, diuretic, diaphoretic.
Constituents: Flowers: flavonoids including rutin, isoquercitrin, kaempferol, tannins, essential oils. Berries: sugar, fruit acids, tannins, vitamin C and P, traces of essential oil.
Tincture (ratio & % alcohol): Fresh: 1:2 Dry:1:5 60%
Glycerite: 1:5 Glycerin: 40% Alcohol: 30% Water: 30%
Ounces: 8-12 Times a day: 4x
Habitat and Botanical Description:
Elder is a commonly used medicinal plant. Nearly every part of the plant has medicinal uses and can be prepared in all sorts of ways which makes it a great plant to have in the home medicine chest. Matthew Wood states that, “The dried or fresh flowers, green or ripe berries, seeds, buds, leaves, shoots, inner bark, outer bark, pith, root and even the fungus that grows on the tree called Jews ears can be used in different ways—by syrup, tinctures, distillation, extract, wine, oil, water, vinegar, conserve, decoction, infusion, hot and cold tea, bath, powder, salt, oil, salve, smoke, amulet.” But the most commonly parts used are the bright white flowers and ripe berries.
Flowers: Elderflower tea can be used at the first sign of a cold or flu. Its cooling diaphoretic properties help to lower fevers. It is a pleasant tasting herb used in formulas as a flavoring agent and is great to use with children. Water based preparations are gently astringent for the mucus membranes for people with excess secretions like runny nose, watery eyes, and seasonal allergies (well strained tea). The elderflowers contain mild antiseptic properties that can be used in washes, poultice, creams and salves for sprains, bruises and sore muscles. A strong tea used in the bath for people with rheumatic pain. Elderflower washes can be useful for burns, weeping eczema, dermatitis, and poison oak. It is an excellent diuretic for edema or simple water retention. The flowers are also used a subtle and gentle nervine that soothe stress, anxiety and depression.
Berries: Elderberries are a immune stimulant and contains a nice broad spectrum antiviral and antiseptic properties and help sedate excess heat and irritation in the tissues and mucous membranes. Use in the first phase of a cold or flu or if you have been exposed to someone who is sick. It also makes a great tonic to aid in replenishing and restoring balance to the body after sickness. It is used in upper and lower respiratory conditions and in acute and subacute viral infections. The berries are also high in iron and good for people with iron deficiencies or anemia.
Leaves: The fresh elder leaves have an unpleasant odor when bruised and offensive to insects. Decoction of the young leaves can be used on other delicate plants for this reason.The leaves can be used externally as a poultice for bruises, sprains, and wounds due to their vulnerary and astringent actions. A standard infusion is a simple alterative diaphoretic when combined with peppermint with no fever is present and an excellent diuretic for water retention.
Bark: A decoction of the bark can be used externally as an antiseptic wash for skin problems. The bark is semi toxic to ingest and used as an emetic drink with proper dosage.
The leaves are harvested in early spring, before the flowers appear. The flowers are collected in full bloom (before they begin to turn brown) by clipping the entire umbel. Elderflowers can be used fresh or immediately dried in the shade. Quickness in drying is essential. Once dried, the flowers should come off easily and sifted free from the stalks (using the prongs of a fork is an easy method). The berries are harvested in late summer when they are dark purple, ripe, juicy and soft to the touch in summer and autumn. The berries are picked from the stalk and separated from the stems just like the flowers.
Do not eat the raw, uncooked berries in any great quantity as the berries are rich in flavonoids and consuming too many can upset stomach and cause nausea. The stem of elder contains toxic alkaloids that can cause stomach upset. The red elder is toxic and should be avoided.
- Gladstar, Rosemary. The Science and Art of Herbalism. A Home-Study Course
- Grieve, M. (1971). A Modern Herbal. Volume 1. New York, NY: Dover Publications. (Original work published 1931)
- Hoffman, David. The Complete Herbs Sourcebook. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing Inc; 2016
- Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Pacific Northwest. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press; 1993
- Popham, Sajah. Alchemical Herbalism Course. School of Evolutionary Herbalism. Lecture Notes; 2020
- Popham, Sajah. The Vitalist Herbal Practitioner Program. School of Evolutionary Herbalism. Lecture Notes; 2021
- Sinadinos, Christa. Northwest School for Botanical Studies Course. Lecture Notes; 2014
- Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books; 1997
Disclosure: This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.