My first plant ally was the elder tree or, as I like to call her, my beloved elder. It was one month before I formally became a herbal-medicine apprentice, so this was before I knew that a plant ally is a plant or tree that you choose (and are chosen by) for a lifelong relationship. As your relationship with the plant grows and deepens, it becomes a special liaison for your communication with all the other plants, and you can call on it for any type of healing you need for yourself and others.
Every part of the elder tree is medicinal, but the flowers and berries are the most frequently used and safest parts to use internally. The leaves and bark are purgative, and I don’t recommend them for internal use. However, the fresh leaves may be used externally in a simple oil, salve, or liniment for bruises and sprains by steeping the green leaves in olive oil, lard, or rubbing alcohol for six weeks and then decanting them for use.
Elder blossoms are antiviral and can be used for head colds, for problems with skin, ears, eyes, or upper-respiratory tract, and as an anti-infective generally for any of those systems. I also like elder blossoms for healing the tummy if there is queasiness or nausea from post-nasal drip.
Easy Elder Flower Infusion
Pour boiling water over the dried elder blossoms in a half-gallon glass jar. Cap it tightly and let it sit for about 2 hours. Strain out the herbs and squeeze them to get every drop of goodness. This infusion can be refrigerated and gently reheated on the stovetop. I often pour it into a stainless-steel thermos to drink throughout the day. You could also put it in a pitcher with ice if it is a hot summer day. This infusion is safe for anyone from infants to elders, and you don’t have to be sick to enjoy it.
Contemporary studies have focused substantially on the antiviral and immune-strengthening properties of elderberries. Original research in the 1980’s from Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem was the first to show that elderberries are more effective against flu than any known flu medication. I use the berries as an iron and vitamin-C tonic, and for colds, flu, and lower respiratory viral infections. I turn to elderberries for coughs and chest congestion, especially that kind that starts out as a head cold and then moves down into the chest. Elderberries can also be used to improve the flavor or less tasty infusions.
Easy Elderberry Infusion
Pour boiling water over the elderberries in a half-gallon jar. Cap it tightly and let it sit for a minimum of 8 hours. (I prefer a longer steeping time, about 12 hours.) Pour off the liquid, squeezing out the berries as much as you can between your hands, or wringing them out in a piece of cheesecloth. Refrigerate and/or reheat the infusion as described in the Easy Elder Flower Infusion recipe. Compost the berries.
The plant called the elder is used to describe a bushy shrub-like plant that can reach a few feet in height as shrub-like forms normally do or it may be referring to a tree reaching up to fifty feet in height – the elderberries which are borne on both types of plants range and differ markedly in the shape and taste. The flowers are usually formed in aromatic clusters of many star-shaped and white colored flowers, which can vary from bunches with flat-topped to the globular types of arrangement. When ripened, these will mature to produce berrylike and limb sagging fruits which can range in color from stark blue to an amber, and even red to a complete black – the variation in the taste of these elderberries is also markedly different.
The long and hollow stems which tend to be very straight were used by the early Native American tribes for making arrow shafts as such stems become woodier with age, such stems were particularly selected during the springtime, they were typically then left to dry with their leaves still on them to be turned into arrows. The native tribes also used the woody stems for other purposes, and they often took out the soft and poisonous pith within the stem using hot sticks, these were sometimes employed as spouts to collect maple sap and the sap of other resinous trees. Such stems were often also bored with holes and fashioned into flutes for making music. One reason, the elder is often called the “tree of music” lies in its use in this role, even though its main uses was as a herbal medication. The elder stems were also turned into animal bugles to pipe elk like sounds and some traditional native hunters still reliant on the old ways of tracking game have often used the stem to bugle elk-thus the elderberry stem whistle has often been employed to successfully lure a handsome elk buck during a hunt. The areas in which the elderberry plant is likely to grow includes very rich and moist soils, especially those soils found in heavily forested areas, the plant also grows well in the soils in rocky slopes and often prefers soils in cool ravines which are heavy in moisture. The plant is considered a native inhabitant of both hemispheres and grows mostly in the temperate and subtropical regions of the world.
The elderberry is actually a drupe which is berrylike in appearance; the elderberry consists of three to five single-seeded nutlets or stones in the fruiting body. Traditionally, eating too many berries is believed to cause digestive problems and the traditional wisdom suggests that only a few berries can be eaten raw at any one time so as to avoid disrupting the stomach. The taste of the elderberries is not remarkable and the taste is better when they are taken along with other edible berries, raw berries are not preferred by people and in general, the berries are much better to eat in the dried or cooked form. The elderberries are used as a decongestant and in the treatment of some conditions which can induce the excessive accumulation of mucus within the lungs of the affected person. These include disorders such as common asthma, problems such as bronchitis, the common cold, diseases such as influenza. In addition, phlegm production is also induced by smoking or the inhalation of second-hand smoke. The elimination of such accumulated yellow or green mucus from the body is aided by drinking some fresh elderberry juice, particularly the juice of the red drupes – this herbal remedy is excellent for the removal of excess mucus in the respiratory passages.
Flowers, berries, bark.
A variety of herbal medications are derived from different parts of the elder plant, for example, the mucous lining of the inner nose and throat is toned by a remedy made from the flowering tops of the plant. This treatment leads to a better resistance from infection in these areas of the body. The herbal remedy made from the flowering tops of the plant are used in the treatment of disorders and complaints such as chronic congestion in the respiratory tract, they are used in the treatment of different types of allergies, they are used in the treatment of all kinds of ear infections, in the treatment of fungal diseases such as candidiasis and in the toning of mucous linings in the respiratory system. The flowering tops of the elder are also used in the preparation of herbal infusions along with other beneficial herbs; these combination treatments can reduce the severity of allergenic reactions during hay fever when they are taken as a precautionary measure some months prior to the onset of hay fever season during a year.
The detoxification of the body is also achieved by taking the herbal remedies made from the flowering tops of the elderflowers, this remedy promotes perspiration and the production of urine in the affected individual, as a general remedy, the flowering tops of the elder aid the rapid elimination of metabolic waste products from the body – for this reason, arthritis patients often receive great benefits by taking the remedy.
Rheumatism and erysipelas – a type of skin infection – is also normally treated using the vitamin C rich elderberries. The mildly laxative actions of the elderberries enable the body of the affected patients to overcome diarrhea and other stomach disorders.
Disorders of the upper respiratory tract and various infections in the area leading to colds, problems such as tonsillitis, long-term laryngitis and flu can be treated effectively by drinking a hot infusion of the elderflowers. Elderflowers will stimulate the circulatory system and induce perspiration in the individual and should be taken during the very first signs of malaise, physical aches, soreness in the throat, bodily chills, or the appearance of restlessness and fever. The remedy made from the elderflower will induce detoxification in the system and cleanse the body by rapid elimination of metabolic toxins out from the pores of the skin; the remedy resolves persistent fevers and infections in this manner and does so in a very rapid way. Elder-flower infusion is also used for the treatment of any type of eruptive diseases caused by viruses including the measles and chickenpox, the herbal remedy induces rapid rash formation and increases the speed of recovery from the disease. When taken in the form of fresh infusion along with the infusion of the yarrow and the peppermint herb, the elderflowers quickly reduce mucus formation and move phlegm out of the respiratory tract – thus, as a hot herbal infusion, they are strongly decongestant and are very good for the treatment of common colds, in the treatment of catarrh, in the treatment of sinusitis, and problems such as bronchial congestion, various types of chest infections and in the treatment of asthma – the remedy speeds up the rate of recovery from all these illnesses. Catarrh and bronchi-spasm are effectively relieved by the relaxing effect of the elderflowers and the remedy is, therefore, ideal for asthma patients.
Fluid retention in the body is also treatable using the elderflowers which tend to promote the overall functional effectiveness of the kidneys and in this role, they can be seen as renal decongestants, which enable a quicker elimination and cleansing of all metabolic toxins in the body via the urinary system – they also transfer out excess heat in the renal system. Remedies made from the elderflowers have also been utilized in the successful treatment of long-term rheumatism, in the treatment of gout and in the treatment of arthritis.
Traditionally, the relaxant quality of the elderflowers has a very long history of use in the herbal lore, it was used for soothing and relaxing frayed nerves, the remedy was given to nervous individuals to allay and beat anxiety and it was used as a general tonic for the treatment of depression in individuals. A soothing and very restful sleep can be induced in a person by making him or she drink a hot infusion during the night, this remedy is particularly very useful and beneficial in the treatment of restlessness or irritability in children during the earliest period of an apparent infection in the body.
Topical remedies are also made using the elderflowers, and the herbal infusion or ointment form of the elderflowers can be applied to various cuts and wounds on the skin, it can be used in the treatment of chilblains, in healing skin eruptions and cracks, in healing sunburn, and to decrease the irritability in sensitive skin – the elderflowers in ointment or infusion form can serve as a general herbal tonic for the affected individual.
Fevers are often “broken” by inducing heavy sweating in the patient following a drink of herbal elderflower tea. Chills in a feverish person are particularly suited to be treated using the elderflower, in such treatments the herbal elder tea is drunk very hot and as soon immediately after it has been boiled. A sore throat is traditionally treated using a cup of cold elder infusion as a throat gargling solution. A mild diuretic action is also attributed to the flowers of the elder and the plant is used in this limited role as well.
Diuretic, as well as laxative abilities, are also believed to be possessed by the juice of the elderberries – this juice is prepared by initially cooking the berries and then pressing the cooked berries to let out the juice.
Traditional healers in Europe usually treated disorders such as sciatica and neuralgia by giving the elderberry juice to the affected patients. Elderflowers and the elderberry extracts are often included as ingredients in some kinds of multi-ingredient herbal preparations for the treatment of rheumatic pain in Europe.
The elder grows wild in many European countries and it is a native species of the European continent. The plant grows abundantly in all kinds of wooded areas, along hedges, and also on waste or uncultivated grounds around the continent. Nowadays, many temperate regions of the world also contain wild populations of the elder; the plant is also cultivated in many areas these days. Springtime is the usual season when the cuttings of the elder are sown and the plant is propagated in areas where it is cultivated during this time. During late spring, harvesting of the flowering tops is carried out, on the other hand, autumn is the time when the elderberries are normally picked, sorted and stored or processed into different herbal preparations.
Generally speaking, the elder is a poorly researched plant, though the limited research conducted on the different properties of the plant suggests that the elderflowers can bring about a reduction in inflammation on the human body. Though not fully understood, one property of the elder namely its effective diaphoretic effect – an ability to increase the perspiration in patients is quite well known.
Elder contains volatile oil, flavonoids, mucilage, tannins, vitamins A, C, cyanogenic glycoside, viburnic acid, an alkaloid.
Dosage for different herbal remedies made from the elder plant varies, however, the liquefied elderberry extract usually taken two times daily at dosages of 5 ml for children and young adults, while the dose for adults is 10 ml – this dose is repeated throughout the duration of the treatment period. The herbal elderberry tea can be drunk thrice every day of the treatment period, and this herbal tea is usually prepared using 3 – 5 grams of the dried flowers, this is normally boiled in 250 ml or a cup of water, and steeped in the water for ten to fifteen minutes at a time, it must then be strained, cooled and used in the dosages indicated.
Eating the twigs, seeds, leaves, branches or roots of the elder in excess can be toxic as they contain cyanide which produces glycoside. Ingesting too much creates a poisonous build up of cyanide in the organism. Also, the unripened flowers and berries enclose a poisonous alkaloid. Because of the chance of cyanide poisoning, kids should not be encouraged to make toys, slingshots, or whistles out of elder wood. On the same note, “herbal teas” that are made with elder leaves should not be taken in the surplus and should be regarded with caution. On the other hand, ripened berries are perfectly OK to consume.
Due to the presence of the chemical compound called ursolic acid which has an anti-inflammatory action, the elderflower is recognized as an effective aid to reducing inflammation in the body. Most of the beneficial actions attributed to the herb are with reference to the problems associated with the respiratory system, and the herb is used as a specific remedy for the treatment of nasal catarrh besides other related problems associated with the nervous system. Hay fever and other allergic conditions such as allergic rhinitis can also be treated using the remedies made from the elderflower; in general, this herb is very effective against allergies of all kinds. The detoxification effect of the elderflower is also significant, and this is due to the strong diaphoretic effect possessed by the plant, that promotes the elimination of toxins through sweat. For this reason, the herb is of especial usefulness against common colds and the flu, during such conditions the herb can actively and effectively bring about a reduction in elevated temperatures due to the fever while also reducing excessive catarrh at the same time. The herbal infusion is also used as an oral gargle for sore throats, the herb is also effective at relieving earache, arising as a result of accumulated mucus in the auditory canal. A mild diuretic effect is also evident in the herb and the elderflower can be used to treat disorders of the urinary system, its detoxification effect is also apparent in this region of the body where it promotes the rapid elimination of accumulated metabolic waste matter, people affected by arthritic conditions directly benefit from this property possessed by the herb.
SYRUP – The elderberries are used in the formulation of a herbal decoction, which can be taken as a prophylactic tonic for the treatment of winter colds, it can also be used for coughs when combined with other known expectorant herbs, like the thyme.
TINCTURE – The elderberries are often mixed with other herbs like the bogbean or the willow, to make a herbal combination tonic for the treatment of rheumatic conditions in patients.
Old-Fashioned Elderberry Wine
- 16 cups (4 liters) water
- 2 Ib (1 kg) elderberries
- 1 oz (30 g) toasted bread
- 1 T (15 g) wine yeast
- 2 lb (1 kg) brown sugar
- 1 t (5 g) allspice
- 5 cloves
- 1 T (15 g) pieces of ginger
- 1 earthenware or glass jar
Crush the berries, place them in the water, add the spices and gently boil for 30 minutes at low heat. Pour everything into the jar and add the toasted bread and the package of wine yeast. Store the container at 68 F degrees (20 C degrees) until fermentation is complete (10 to 20 days). Then strain, bottle and store in the cellar or in a cool place for at least 2 months. Drink 1 oz (25 ml) before meals. In the case of anemia, this is an excellent stimulant and tonic for the immune system.
This, of course, is not really a champagne, nor is it alcoholic, but it is a refreshing and deliciously fragrant drink to serve on a summer’s day. Elder bushes grow wild in many places, so if you do not have one in your garden, take care where you pick the flowers. Avoid picking those that have been growing by the roadside, and always wash them before use.
- 4 liters/1 gal water
- 625 g/1 1/4 lb caster sugar
- 2 juicy lemons
- 4 large elderflower heads
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Boil the water, then stir in the sugar until it has dissolved, and leave to cool. Squeeze out the juice of one lemon. Scrub the other lemon if it has been waxed, and cut into 4 pieces. Place the elderflowers in a large, non-metallic container. Add the lemon juice, lemon segments, the sweetened water and the vinegar. Stir, cover with a cloth and leave for 24 hours. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve, squeezing the flowers to extract all the flavor. Pour into clean screw-top bottles, and leave for up to 10 days, until effervescent. Drink within 3-4 weeks.