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Herbal Monograph

Herb: ELDER BERRY   (Sambucus Canadensis; Sambucus Nigra)

Other Names:  black-berried alder, european alder, boor tree, elder, bountry, ellanwood, ellhorn (2)

          American elder, sweet elder   (50)

Character/Energetics: “hot and dry”  (Galen);  bitter, drying, cool, slightly sweet    (15)        

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  blood, circulation, lungs, bowels and skin  (14)              

Parts used:   bark, flowers, berries, leaves  (8)

The flowers, fruits, bark and leaves have all been used as remedies by Native Americans.    (61)

Identification & Harvesting: The fruit is a black-violet, berry-like drupe  with blood-red juice…The plant is a shallow-rooted, up to 7 m high tree or bush with spreading branches containing dry white latex.  Bark is fissured, light brown to grey.  Leaves are odd 3 to 7 pinnate, matte green above and light blue-green beneath.  Flowers have a strong, numbing perfume.  S. nigra is indigenous to most of Europe.  (2)

Berries are collected in August and September.  (8)

Light grey bark with wide fissures.  Pale yellow flowers with slight but characteristic odor.  (57)

A member of the honeysuckle family.  American elder, S. canadensis, ranges from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, south to the mountains of North Carolina, and west to Arizona.  European elder, S. nigra, occurs throughout Europe, except for extreme northern areas, and is widely cultivated.    (61)

Active Constituents: Flavonoids (up to 3%):  chiefly rutin, isoquercitrin, quercitrin, hyperoside, astragalin, nicotoflorin.  Volatile oil (.03-.14%):  higher share of free fatty acids, incl. palmitic acid 38%.  Caffeic acid derivatives (3%):  chlorogenic acids.  (2)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

High in vitamin C.  Root has an uninvestigated bitter principle and saponins.   (6)

Invert sugar, fruit acids, tannin, vitamin C and P, anthrocyanic pigments;  Essential oil (trace).  (8)

Contains two compounds that are active against flu viruses.  Also prevents the virus from invading respiratory tract cells. (56)

Actions:  Active substances in elderberry bind to the spikes on viruses’ surfaces, preventing them from piercing the cell membrane;  bioflavonoids in elderberry may inhibit the action of neuraminidase, the enzyme that covers the hemaglutinin spikes and acts to break down cell walls… the real danger [of viruses] isn’t until the virus enters body cells, turning them into “flu factories” churning out more flu viruses… if we could prevent the viruses from entering into cells, they would die, and the invasion would be over.   (1);  A diaphoretic agent;  also increases bronchial secretion.  (2); diaphoretic, alterative, detoxicant, anti-inflammatory. (6); diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative.  (8); alterative, laxative, stimulant.  In large doses, can act as a purgative and diuretic. (14)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Most research has involved black elderberry, and current interest stems from the research of Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu.  She and colleagues as Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem developed an elderberry extract standardized to contain three flavonoids.  The extract reduced the severity and duration of flu symptoms during a flu outbreak in Israel in ’93.  Sold under the name Sambucol, the effective principles inhibit a virus’ ability to enter cells and propagate.    (61)

Conditions  & Uses:  Used for colds and coughs;  a sweat-producing remedy for treatment of feverish colds.  In folk medicine, used as an infusion, a gargle/mouthwash, and for respiratory disorders as coughs, head colds, laryngitis, flu, and occasionally by nursing mothers to increase lactation.  Externally, herbal pads are used for swelling and inflammations.  (2)                        

Indicated in any catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract such as hayfever and sinusitis.  Catarrhal deafness and rheumatismrespond well to elder berries.  (8)

For neuralgia, sciatica or lumbago, take 2 tbsp lightly-cooked juice, warm or cold, 2 x daily.  (13)

Blood purifier, chills, fevers, flu, measles, scarlet fever, colic, diarrhea:  infusion.  Bronchial and pulmonary afflictions:  infusion*.  Rheumatism:  juice.  Coughs, colds:  syrup.

For urinary complaints, edema and rheumatic problems.

*usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.   (14)

Rich in vitamins A and C.  In the days before imported winter fruits, the berries were made into wines and syrups, taken to prevent winter colds. (15)

Tea from the inner bark was used as a diuretic and strong laxative, as well as to induce vomiting.  Berries long used in European medicine, like its American counterpart, for colds and fevers.  The berries have been used as a mild laxative and diuretic, and to induce sweating.    (61)

Combinations: For colds and fever, may be used with peppermint, yarrow or hyssop.  For flu, combine with boneset (comfrey).  For catarrhal states, mix with goldenrod.  (8)                                                                                    

Mix with peppermint for colds. (14)

Take the syrup with other expectorants such as thyme for coughs.  Use the tincture with bogbean or willow for rheumatic conditions.  (15)

Combine w/peppermint, yarrow, hyssop and linden leaf for upper respiratory tract infections.(38)                                                                                                                                                         

Precautions: Proof of efficacy is not available.  No health hazards or side effects are known with proper administration of designated dosages.  (2); 

Berries are not to be eaten raw, nor fresh juice used.   (13)                                                    

Take care to avoid dehydration.   (15)

Leaves and raw berries are harmful if eaten.   (38)

Always dry or cook the flowers or berries:  when fresh, they can produce allergic or other adverse reactions.  Even the thick pithy stems can cause these.    (61)

Tincturing Process:  Vita Mix: 150 gr portions processed 75-90 seconds on Speed 5. 60% alcohol .

454 gr apportioned between (1) 24 oz and (1) 16-oz mason jars   (1a)

Applications: Juice:  boil fresh berries in water for 2-3 min, then express the juice.  To preserve, bring the juice to boil with 1 part honey to 10 parts juice.  Take 1 glass diluted with hot water 2 x daily.  (8)

Decoction:  simmer 15 min.  1 c. at a time.

Powder:  5-10 #0 capsules (30-60 grains) 3 x daily.   (14)

Syrup:  make from the decoction.

Tincture:  use for rheumatic conditions. (15)

ELDER BERRY   (Sambucus Canadensis; Sambucus Nigra)

Divination:    r    (48)

Dosage:  Avg daily dose is 10-15 g.  Infusion should be dosed 1-2 c, as hot as possible, several times daily, esp in afternoon and evening.  (2)                                                                                                                                         

1/2-6 g.   (6)

Tincture:  20-45 drops 2-3 x daily as needed.   (22)

Up to 3.6 g capsules daily.  For a syrup, simmer 3 tsp dried berries in 1 pint water.  Sweeten with honey to taste.  Cayuga Botanicals RD Note — [Refined sugar is thought to suppress the immune system to some degree, thereby counteracting the benefit.]  Tincture 40 drops every 4 hours.    (61)

General Notes: “The decoction of the root…cureth the biting of an adder.”  Nicholas Culpepper, 1653.

A wealth of folklore attaches to this plant, often described as a “complete medical chest”. (15)

High concentration of iron and minerals in the berry.  (1b)

Elder tree is a veritable medicine chest by itself.  Leaves and bark also have established uses.(8)                                                                                                

All parts of S. canadensis (American elder) are poisonous.  Cooked berries are safe and are used in pies and jams.   (13)

Bark and root widely used in Europe, is not advisable in the West;  our trees and bushes contain larger amounts of both hydrocyanic acid and sambuline, a nauseating alkaloid found mostly in the bark and root.   (14)

Revered by gypsies, associated with the Kabbalah.  (38)

Constituent of Sambucol, a patented, relatively new Israeli drug used very successfully to treat flu.  Sambucol has also shown some activity against other viruses such as Epstein-Barr, herpes and HIV, and is now available in U.S.

Don’t hesitate to use American elder berry instead [of S. nigra].   (56)



(1)  Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, “Elderberry, The Virus Slayer”, Arnold Fox, MD, and Barry Fox, PhD, 

       Healthy and Natural Journal, v. 3, #1, 1996, pgs. 98-99

(1a) ibid “Elder Berry ” Tincture file

(1b) ibid Research Data, LeArta Moulton, 1974

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), p. 1116

(6)  Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pgs. 158-59

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 197

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust, pgs. 178-80

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 113-15

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 96, 137

(22) Herbs and Herbal Formulas (booklet) by Mark Hershiser, p. 9

(38) Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses by Deni Bown, p. 347

(48) The Rulership Book by Rex E. Bills, p. 43

(50) The Practical Herbalist and Astrologer by Ira N. Shaw, p. 39

(56) The Green Pharmacy  by James A. Duke, Ph.D., pgs. 136-37, 146

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., p. 126

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 72-73


PHOTO: Wikipedia