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Herbal Monograph

Herb:  ELDER FLOWERELDER FLOWER  (Sambucus Canadensis, Sambucus Nigra;  Caprifoliaceae)

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

          tree of music, tree of medicine   (6);  American elder, sweet elder (50)

          Black elder, European elder   (57)

Character/Energetics:  acrid, bitter, cool   (6);   “hot and dry”  (Galen);

bitter, drying, cool, slightly sweet.   (15)


Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected: lungs, liver  (6);  blood, circulation, lungs, bowels and skin  (14)

Parts used: flowers  (6);  bark, flowers, berries, leaves  (8);  Modern herbal usage favors the flowers. (38)

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)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Flowers are collected in spring and early summer and dried as rapidly as possible in shade.  (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)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Contain an essential oil, with terpenes, glycosides, rutin and quercitrin, mucilage and tannin.  Root has an uninvestigated bitter principle and saponins.   (6)

Flavonoids incl. rutin, isoquercitrine and kampherol;  the hydrocyanic glycoside sambunigrine;  tannins;  essential oil.   (8)

Actions:  A diaphoretic agent;  also increases bronchial secretion.  (2); diaphoretic, alterative, detoxicant, anti-inflammatory   (6); diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal.  (8); alterative, laxative, stimulant.  In large doses, can act as a purgative and diuretic. (14)

Elder flowers are used as a diaphoretic, as well as to increase bronchial secretion in the treatment of colds.    (61)

Conditions & Uses:  Used for colds and coughs;  a sweat-producing remedy for treatment of feverish colds.  In folk medicine, flowers are used internally as a sudorific tea and for colds and feverish conditions.  Also 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)                                                

For colds, flu, fevers, clearing the skin;  used both internally and externally.  (6)

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

Blood purifier, chills, fevers, flu, measles, scarlet fever:  infusion.  Bronchial and pulmonary afflictions:  infusion*.  

Bruises:  salve.  Hemorrhoids, inflammations, sprains, wounds:  salve, fomentation.

For urinary complaints, edema and rheumatic problems.  Tea of the flowers is used to break fevers.  Take a hot bath first, then combine elder flowers with equal parts peppermint and drink hot while in bed to promote sweating.

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

Take as a prophylactic early in the year to strengthen the upper respiratory tract before the pollen count rises.  (15);  Flower heads are fried in batter (elder flower fritters). (38)

Has been successfully used to treat epilepsy.   (57)

Combinations:  Mixed with equal parts mint and yarrow blossoms, an excellent internal cleanser for detoxification of flu and colds.  A tea combined with an equal part sassafras is a good remedy for clearing skin of blemishes or acne.  (6)                                                                                    

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)

Can be combined with other drying or astringent herbs, such as yarrow, ground ivy, goldenrod, agrimony, or bistort to enhance action.  Use 3 parts elderflower to 1 part other herbs.   (15)

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

American herbal tradition combined elder flowers with peppermint for treating fevers and colds.    (61)                                                                                                                                                       

Precautions:  Proof of efficacy is not available.  No health hazards or side effects are known with proper administration of designated dosages.  (2);  take care to avoid dehydration.   (15)

Leaves 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: Place 6 lg. spoonfuls in VM container. Process 60-75 seconds. 

                                  60% alcohol.  Apportion  454 gr between (2) 1-qt mason jars    (1a) 

ELDER FLOWER  (Sambucus Canadensis, Sambucus Nigra;  Caprifoliaceae)

Applications: Oil and ointment is made by steeping flowers in a little olive oil and storing in a warm place for 2-3 days, then squeezing through a cloth.  Heat and dissolve enough bee’s wax in the oil to achieve an ointment consistency (test by spooning out a little and cooling to harden) and add some tincture of benzoin to preserve it.  This ointment is excellent for burns, cuts, scratches and abrasions.  

Oil made with the infusion in olive oil is a good remedy for chapped hands and chilblains.   (6)              

Infusion:  pour a cup of boiling water onto 2 tsp of dried or fresh blossoms and infuse for 10 min;  drink hot 3 x daily.   (8)

Infusion:  steep 15 min, 6 oz. 3 x daily.

Tincture:  15-30 drops 3 x daily.

Fluid extract:  1/2-1 tsp 3 x daily.

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

Cream:  apply to chapped skin and sores on the hands or to chilblains.

Eyewash:  use the cold, strained infusion for inflamed or sore eyes.

Mouthwash/Gargle:  use the infusion for mouth ulcers, sore throats and tonsillitis.   (15)

Divination:   r   (48)

        x,  ruled by  t or  p    (52)

XIII  Death:  Elder Flowers

Elder was traditionally planted in cemeteries in Europe and parts of the U.S. as a protection against negative spirits.  The flowers are an alterative and diaphoretic.  They are made into tea for colds and fevers, and to purify the blood, remove putrefaction, and clear the skin.

Symbolically used for:  clearing the past.  Letting go of old ways of being.  Protecting oneself from possible karmic reactions to past deeds.

Divinatory Meanings:  Rebirth.  The end of the old, the beginning of the new.  Letting go of the past and things no longer needed.

Reverse meanings:  Alarmism.  Fear of impending doom and crises.  Lack of enthusiasm and feeling.   (52)

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)

2-4 ml tincture 3 x daily.  (8)

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

Simmer 2-3 tsp dried flowers in hot water for 10-15 min., up to 3 x daily, for a tea.    (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”.  Elder flower water was much praised in the 18th century for whitening the skin and removing freckles. (15)

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.   (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)

Recently shown to have antiviral activity in virus culture studies.     (22)

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



(1a) Cayuga Botanicals “Elder Flower” Tincture file

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

(52) The Herbal Tarot Deck (Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantin), pgs. 11-12

(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

Commonly used in British drinks and desserts, elderflower is the white blossom of the elderberry tree. Before it’s turned into food, it looks like this: