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Elder, or Elderberry – (Sambucus nigra, Sambucus canadensis)

Elder, or Elderberry

With its flat masses of creamy white flowers, the elder, or elderberry tree is a common sight. Two species are commonly planted in North America, the native species, Sambucus canadensis, is shorter, while the larger European variety, Sambucus nigra, has been naturalized in North America. Berries are commonly used in jams, pies and wine. The history of the tree goes way back to Pliny and beyond. While the tree has represented death, bad luck and other dire consequences, it has also been assigned some sterling qualities and is beloved by many. It has been used medicinally since ancient Greece.

Key Medicinal Uses

Internally – When the bark is infused in water, it can be taken as a purgative. It has also been used as a diuretic, and has been used successfully with epilepsy. As a homeopathic tincture it has been proven effective for asthmatic children. Tea from Elder flowers was taken as a spring tonic. Vinegar was used to cure sore throat. A herbal tea from the dried berries is used to cure diarrhea, colic, nerve disorders and inflammation of the urinary tract and bladder. A thickened syrup is taken for coughs and colds.

Externally – When the bark is made into an ointment, it proves to be very emollient and good for the skin. Elder Flower Water is used to remove freckles and sunburn, and was a common skin preparation in days gone by. It whitens and softens the skin. When the leaves were made into an ointment, it was applied to bruises, chilblains and sprains, along with other wounds of the skin.

Other Uses – The Romans used the berries to dye their hair black. The berries are also used frequently for jam and pies.

Parts Used

Bark, berries, flowers – Bark: The bark should be harvested in autumn from young trees. It should be dried in warm but not hot sun, and taken in at night.

Flowers: Used mostly to distill into Elder Flower Water, the flowers make a slightly astringent liquid that is frequently used for eye and skin lotions as well as for mixing medicines.

Leaves: Leaves are gathered in June and July, and are used both fresh and dried.

Berries: Berries are used freshly cooked and dried.


The fresh plant is poisonous. Berries should be cooked. The stems are very toxic as they contain cyanide. Improperly prepared berries can induce nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Women who are pregnant or nursing should exercise caution with elderberry remedies.

Preparation and Dosage

Most elder preparations are commercially made. Follow the directions on the package carefully for the best results.

Elder Herbal remedies Top