Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder is steeped in folklore and myth alluding to a magical and supernatural nature. Elder has a very long history of medicinal usage, dating at least as far back as Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. It has been a valued and cherished remedy through history and remains popular with modern day Medical Herbalists.
Elderflower is primarily used for catarrhal conditions and fevers. The anticatarrhal action of elderflowers will help in cases of colds and flu, upper respiratory infections, hayfever and sinusitis. It tones the membranes of the nasal passages, helping to alleviate congestion and 'stuffy noses'. It is useful in lowering fevers, particularly when taken as a hot infusion or tisane. The tisane or tea is made by adding 1 or 2 teaspoons of elderflowers to a teapot and adding a cup or so of boiling water and leaving to infuse for 5 to 10 minutes. It can then be strained and drunk when sufficiently cooled.
Elderflowers have relaxing qualities which can be used to help calm irritable children suffering from upper respiratory infections. Elderflowers combine particularly well with German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) which also works to calm and soothe, whilst reducing fevers and having a mild decongestant action. Both elderflowers and chamomile are considered to be suitable remedies for children.
The cooled tea may also be used to moisturise the skin where it is inflamed, irritated or chapped. Use the tea as a lotion, wash or add a strong, strained infusion to the bath. Again, elderflowers combine well with chamomile here. Chamomile is a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae/ Compositae) to which some people are allergic.
The berries of the Elder tree are also used. The berries are considered to support the immune system and have been found to reduce the duration of influenza in trials (McIntyre, 2005). The berries also have a decongestant action, although considered to be less so than the flowers. The berries can be made into a variety of delicious syrups to be taken from the onset of an upper respiratory infection. The berries also have a mild laxative action.
Elderflowers and elderberries can be made into a variety of delicious recipes, including syrups, wines and vinegars. For a selection of recipes from Mrs M Grieves 'A Modern Herbal' go to www.botanical.com.
Always make sure that you have correctly identified a plant before you use it. When collecting plants from the wild avoid those growing close to busy roadsides and take care that the plants have not been sprayed with pesticides (this may be the case in managed areas such as golf courses).
Before using herbal remedies consult your GP, pharmacist or Medical Herbalist if you are pregnant, breast feeding, or taking medications. Seek advice from a medical professional if your symptoms are severe or persist.
Bartrum, T. ‘Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine’ (1995) Grace: Dorset
McIntyre, A. ‘Herbal Treatment of Children – Western and Ayurvedic Perspectives’ (2005) Elselvier: UK
Wood, M. 'The Book of Herbal Wisdom' (1997) North Atlantic Books: California