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 soothe and support the body through illness though. 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 say that if a person harvested Elder without asking permission from the nymph they would be haunted by her.
Today elderberry is most known for its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a proven and popular remedy for cold and flu season. The herb is gentle enough to be used for the whole family and from personal experience it is the best ally to have in the medicine cabinet to defend against the cold and flu. The berries have been shown in laboratory testing to be effective against 10 strains of influenza and 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). I keep it stocked in our shop this time of year because of its unbeatable reputation as a flu remedy.
The flowers are a powerful ally to alleviate cold and flu 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 herbalism
Uses: Cold & Flu remedy, rheumatism, bronchitis (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
When to Use: Elder berries can be used as a preventative throughout cold and flu season or as a year round tonic to aid the immune system and alleviate inflammation. The berries have also been shown to reduce the length and severity of the cold and flu. For this purpose they should be used at the first sign of flu and used often. 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. The syrup I make from Elder berries is recommended at 1 tsp up to 4 tsp a day for children and 2 tsp up to 8 tsp 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.
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diaphoretic tea for fever
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.
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
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.