Elder Herbal Monograph | Get to know the folk remedy for cold & flu

Updated: Mar 31

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, I do not treat or diagnose disease. I am a clinical herbalist who uses current scientific literature and traditional practices to educate. The information shared here is not intended to treat, diagnose, or cure disease and should not be used in place of consultation with a trained healthcare practitioner.

There are few herbs I have found with as much lore and tradition surrounding them them as Elder (Sambucus nigra). Every part of this European native has been used for centuries as food and medicine to combat inflammation and allay fever. Its gifts reach beyond its ability to support immunity. Its strong wood can be used for crafting tools and musical instruments, and to build fences. The aromatic leaves can be used as a tea in the garden where it can be sprayed on leaves of plants to deters aphids and caterpillars. Its bark, berries, leaves, and roots can also be used to dye fabrics, producing a range of colors from black to violet.

In the lore of Europe and Russia its branches were believed to hold magical properties as well. Many folk stories surround the Elder. I enjoy the story that comes from Denmark which tells of a forest nymph named Hylde-Moer who protects the trees. Some believe that if a person harvested Elder without asking permission from the nymph they would be haunted by her.

In modern western herbalism elderberry is most called upon for its strength in supporting our innate immunity. You have probably heard of its reported ability to shorten the duration of cold and flu. The berries have been shown in laboratory testing to be effective against 10 strains of influenza. Elderberry has also been shown to increase cytokine production (cytokines are proteins that are released by the immune system to aid cellular communication). The berries are thought to potentially strengthen the cell walls making it more difficult for viruses to penetrate (Hoffman, 2003).

The flowers are a powerful ally to support our immune response as well. They are cooling and astringent and make a wonderful tea that can be used to quell a fever. Keep reading to learn more about Elderberry and find a recipe for a tea to alleviate fever.

Materia Medica of Elder

Common Name: Black Elder

Scientific Name: Sambucus nigra

Parts Used: primarily the berry & flower in modern, western herbalism

Uses: immune support, rheumatism, bronchial afflictions (flower), diaphoretic(flower)

Systems affected: Lungs & Liver

Constituents (Flower): Flavonoids, mucilaginous polysaccharides, tannins, phenolic acids, volatile oil, triterpines, minerals (i.e. potassium)

(Berry) : Flavonoids, organic acids, sugars, vitamins (C + B Complex), quercitin, glycosides

Traditional Use: Elder berries can be used as a preventative throughout cold and flu season when the risk of viral infection is higher or as a year round tonic to aid the immune system and promote healthy inflammation response. If being used for support during acute infection, use at the first sign of illness and use every few . Beyond the berries usefulness for immunity, they have also been traditionally used as an anti-inflammatory for rheumatism. The flower can be used as a tea for bronchitis or to help expel mucous. The flowers are also useful to aid the body during fever (see tea recipe below).

Dosage: There are many traditional recipes which employ the flowers and berries. They are both considered generally safe and can be used as needed. A standard dosage of elderberry syrup is 1- 4 tsp daily for children and 1Tbsp-4Tbsp daily for adults. A decoction of a elder berry can be made by adding 2 tbsp elder berries per 1 cup of water and simmering on low heat and can be consumed as needed during illness. Elder flowers can be brewed as a tea by adding 2 tsp of flowers per cup of water and steeping 10-15 minutes. For a 1:5 in 40% tincture of Elder flower dosage is 2 to 4 ml 3 x/ day.

Cautions: Elder is considered a safe herb. Although proper preparations of Sambucus nigra and Sambucus Ebulus are safe to consume there is some toxicity reported from the uncooked seeds of the Elder plant, especially the variety carrying the red berries (S. pubens, S. racemosa). For this reason, it is important to properly identify and prepare Elder berries before consuming.

|| recipe ||

diaphoretic tea for fever

Combine :

Elder Flowers

Linden flowers



Yarrow Flower

Mint Leaf

This tea is a time tested remedy to break a fever. The herbs in it are cooling, diaphoretic, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory. To brew it, blend the herbs and steep them in freshly boiled hot water for 10 minutes. Drink the tea as hot as you can stand it, you may add honey or lemon to it if you wish. Then cuddle up under layers of blankets to aid the induction of sweating and get plenty of rest.

Any combination of these herbs will be beneficial for a fever, if you don't have all of them on hand then you can easily make your own blend. You may also like to add some of your own favorites into the mix. If you do not have these herbs already in your garden or home apothecary loose herbs can generally be found at a local natural food store or co-op. If you do not have this option in your town Mountain Rose Herbs and Frontier Co-op are both reputable online sources for bulk loose leaf herbs.

elderberry syrup


1 c Elderberries

3 c Water

1 c local/raw honey

optional: other spices or herbs to customize your formula

Place cup of elderberries in room temperature water and allow to soak for 4 hours or more. After soaking, place the mixture in a pot and bring to a low simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat allow to cool, strain off the herb and combine with the honey in a mason jar with a lid.


Cech, Richo, and Sena Cech. Making Plant Medicine. Herbal Reads, 2016.

Grieve, M., and C. F. Leyel. A Modern Herbal: the Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs and Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses: With a New Service Index. Vol. 1-2. 1970.

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism the Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press, 2003.

Schulz, Volker, et al. Rational Phytotherapy: a Physicians Guide to Herbal Medicine. Springer-Verlag, 1998.

Skenderi, Gazmend. Herbal Vade Mecum: 800 Herbs, Spices, Essential Oils, Lipids, Etc., Constituents, Properties, Uses, and Caution. Herbacy Press, 2004.

Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs: Michael Tierra. Pocket Books, 1998

“The Truth about Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra).”DonnieYance.com, 24 Mar. 2020, www.donnieyance.com/the-truth-about-elderberry-sambucus-nigra/.


I am not a medical doctor. The information shared here is for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat or diagnose any disease.

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*The statements made on this site are not intended to treat or diagnose any disease and have not been evaluated by the FDA