Location Native to Europe. Grows abundantly in woods, hedges, ditches and wasteland. Now grows in most temperate regions. Often cultivated. Propagated from cuttings in spring. Self propagates from seed. Rich folk lore attached. . This plant perfectly illustrates how nature provides the things that we need in a particular season – elderflowers appear during the hayfever season and the berries appear just as the seasons change from summer to autumn and we often need a boost to the immune system then.
DescriptionA deciduous tree, growing to 30 foot, with creamy white flowers and bluish green leaves.
Harvesting Buds in spring, Flowering tops - late spring. Berries in autumn. Leave until ripe, but get there before the birds. Bark in early spring from two year old twigs
Flowers Flavonoids-rutin, phenolic acids, triterpenes and triterpene acids, sterols, essential oil, mucilage, tannins, minerals especially high levels of potassium
Berries Flavonoids, Anthocyanins, vitamins A and C, sambunigrin (cyanogenic glycoside), sambucine (alkaloid), organic acids and vitamins
Leaves, Bark and buds Sambunigrin and sambucine. Bark also contains saponins.
Berries Laxative, Nutritive, Immune stimulant/ immune modulant; at least as effective as Echinacea for colds and flus
Leaves Traditional and current uses
Flowers coughs, colds, flu-to reduce fever and catarrh. Tones lining of upper respiratory tract by reducing oedema, increasing resistance to infection. Chronic catarrh, ear infections, hay fever, sinusitis and other respiratory allergies. Candida. Arthritis by promoting diuresis and sweating. Good for anxiety in the evening. A hydrosol from the flowers is called Eau de Sureau in France and is consider an excellent aftershave skin tonic.
Berries Colds, flus and respiratory infections, ear infections, Strengthens the immune system. Mild laxative often used in the form of syrups for children., but can also be used to treat diarrhoea, presumably because the anthocyanins are anti-inflammatory for the bowel wall. Probably has benefits for the eyes similar to bilberry due to the high levels of anthocyanins
Leaves Insect repellent. Purgative and emetic in large doses. Used externally to treat bruises, chilblains and strain. The leaves were infused in linseed to make Oleum viride.
Bark A warming liver stimulant which can be purgative and emetic in large doses and is also diuretic. It has been used for arthritis and for stubborn constipation
Tate and energetics
Definitely drying, slightly sweet. Sometimes described as hot and sometimes as cooling, I would view the flowers as cooling and the fruit as warming, some bitterness and sourness.
Buds are expectorant, diaphoretic and purgative in large dose
Flowers are used to make sweet fritters; a simple batter can be made from gram flower and water. The flower heads are dipped in and then plunged into hot oil.
Recipe for Elderberry cough mixture from Barbara Jeffreys
3lbs elderberries. Place in a large casserole in hot oven for 10 minutes approximately. Strain off juice and return to oven until all juice is run (about 1.5 pints). To each pint add half a pound of sugar, quarter teaspoon cinnamon and 12 cloves. Cover and simmer until sugar melts. Strain and bottle.
Elderflower and elderberry syrup
A nice variation is to make an infusion of elderflower, using 30g dried or 75 g fresh flowers in 250 ml of boiling water-cover and leave for 15 minutes. Make a decoction of 30g dried or 75 g fresh berries by placing them in cold water and simmering for half an hour. Strain these two off and combine the liquid and check the volume. For each ml of liquid add one gram of sugar or honey, or 1 ml of apple juice concentrate. Return to the heat and simmer for half an hour then bottle in clean bottles. Store in the fridge and use as a cordial, on ice cream or fruit pies or add it to white wine for an interesting variation on a kir, or with champagne to make a variation on kir royale.