Elder is an extremely valuable herb to have on hand during cold and flu season. Both the flowers and the berries offer beneficial herbal actions for the immune and respiratory systems.
Until the last year or so, I never really knew much about elder, nor did I use it regularly in our home. As I started reading and learning more about herbalism, though, it didn’t take long to convince me that elder is a plant that I needed to be much more familiar with!
Elder has a long history of use as a remedy for colds and flu, as well as many other conditions. The flowers and berries can also both be used in the kitchen, so it need not be relegated only to the medicine chest.
With its extensive historical use and documented evidence of safety and efficacy, elder is an herb that I try to always keep on hand. It’s a great way to gently keep our families healthy during the fall and winter months!
Elder is a low maintenance plant that typically grows as a shrub or small tree between 5 and 10 feet in height. The leaves grow in compound groups of slightly toothed leaflets joined along a middle stem in groups of 5 to 11. The small, white flowers form wide, flat clusters set atop hollow stems. These flowers later mature into the dark purple, almost black, small berries of the plant which hang down in clusters.
The flowers and berries are most frequently used today, though all parts of the shrub were used in the past. The bark and root have fallen out of favor due to more extreme actions, though leaves are still sometimes used.
Actions in the Body
- Both the flowers and the berries are diaphoretics, which means that they increase perspiration in the body. This can be beneficial during fevers and to expel toxins.
- The flowers offer anticatarrhal properties, helping the body eliminate mucus.
- Both flowers and berries have recognized anti-viral and immune-stimulating properties.
- Leaves, though rarely used, have vulnerary (wound-healing) properties.
Elderberry is most frequently prepared into a syrup. A strong decoction is first made, typically with dried berries. After straining out the berries, the decoction can be sweetened and thickened with sweetener of choice. The berries contain toxic compounds which can be very nauseating, but this compound is neutralized during cooking.
Elder flowers may be used in herbal infusions and tinctures without additional cooking or preparation as they do not contain the toxic compound. One to two teaspoons of dried flowers can be steeped in 1 cup of boiled water for about 15 minutes, then enjoyed as a hot tea during colds, flu, and sinus infections. Elder flower tinctures and extracts can also be taken.
Both elderberries and elder flowers are used in culinary recipes, like elder flower fritters and elderberry jam.
Leaves are occasionally made into a healing oil or salve by infusing fresh into oil with warm heat, straining out the leaves once they are dried, and then thickening with wax as desired. This needs to be stored in the refrigerator, though, as oils and salves made with fresh plant matter have a reduced shelf life.
Elder is safe for infants, children, the elderly, and pregnant and nursing mothers.
Free Printable Elder Card
I’m pleased to provide you with a new herb card for the month of November featuring key information about elder. Just subscribe below to get your download link! If you’re already a subscriber, your link came in the monthly newsletter already sent out.
Have you ever used elderberry or elder flower during cold and flu season?
Fritchey, Philip. Practical Herbalism. Whitman Publications, Warsaw, Indiana. 2004. (found here).
Hawkins, Jessie. Botanical Medicine in the Home. Vintage Remedies, Franklin, Tennessee. 2013. (found here).
Hoffman, David. Medicinal Herbalism. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont. 2003. (found here).