Part of the Caprifoliacae or Honeysuckle family, Elder is a deciduous shrub or small tree, growing up to 6 meters tall and shedding it’s leaves annually. The flat topped fragrant flowers are creamy white and bloom in late spring to mid-summer. They have a distinctive aroma and are sweet to taste. The Elder fruits in late summer to early autumn, producing small berries with a characteristically sweet and sour taste profile.
Habitat and cultivation
Elder grows wild in countries with cooler climates, is easily grown from cuttings, or may self-sow. Prefers moist, rich soil and shady sheltered positions, but will grow in full sun. Frost resistant and drought tender.
Flowers harvested in early summer and berries harvested in autumn.
Flavonoids, anthocyanins, volatile oils and Vitamin A
Anti-inflammatory – reduces or relieves inflammation
Anti-oxidant – prevents or decreases oxidative damage to cells
Anti-viral – used to prevent or treat viral infections
Immune enhancer – strengthens and supports the body’s immune system
Diuretic – increases the production and flow of urine
The berries have been found to have potent anti-viral actions and are used to prevent or treat influenza and other viral conditions. The anthocyanins found within the berries demonstrate very strong free radical scavenging activity making it a potent anti-oxidant used to protect cells from internal and external oxidative damage.
Both the flowers and berries are used to enhance immunity and alleviate symptoms of the common cold, sinusitis and hay fever.
Safety / Contraindications / Interactions
In most countries, especially Denmark, Elder was connected with magic. The Elder Tree was believed to ward off evil influence and give protection from witches. Lady Northcote reportedly wrote in ‘The Book of Herbs’;
'The Russians believe that Elder-trees drive away evil spirits, and the Bohemians go to it with a spell to take away fever. The Sicilians think that sticks of its wood will kill serpents and drive away robbers, and the Serbs introduce a stick of Elder into their wedding ceremonies to bring good luck. In England it was thought that the Elder was never struck by lightning, and a twig of it tied into three or four knots and carried in the pocket was a charm against rheumatism. A cross made of Elder and fastened to cow houses and stables was supposed to keep all evil from the animals.'
There is a long history of the use of the berries to make Elderberry wine and as use as a colourant in other wines. The Romans also used Elderberry juice as a hair dye and the older branches were used to make black dye in the Scottish Highlands.
An infusion of Elder leaves are said to deter mosquitoes and flies once cooled and applied to the skin.
Materia Medica of Western Herbs by Carole Fisher
Herbs and Natural Supplements; An evidence-based guide 3rd edition by Lesley Braun and Marc Cohen
A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs by Kerry Bone
The Constituents of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Pengelly