Sambucus nigra, Caprifoliaceae. The flowers, bark, leaves and berries are the parts of the plant used.

The flowers are collected in spring and early summer and dried as quickly as possible in the shade. The bark and berries are best collected in late summer and early autumn.

Functions of elder

The elder is a veritable tree in itself. The bark is used externally primarily for bruises, sprains and strains. It has been reported that the leaves of the elder have been used for the treatment of tumours. The elder flowers:

  • when taken hot make a wonderful remedy for the onset of colds, flu, tonsillitis and laryngitis. The elder flowers will stimulate the circulation and cause sweating which will assist in the cleansing of the system by the elimination of toxins. It also has antiviral properties and acts as an immune booster.
  • are also recommended for the onset of eruptive diseases such as measles and chicken pox to bring on the rash and speed recovery.
  • have been used as a decongestant to reduce and remove phlegm.
  • enhance the action of the kidneys relieving fluid retention in the body and also assisting in the removal of toxins via the urinary system. They have been used in gout, rheumatism and arthritis.
  • have a long history of use as a relaxant and aiding in the soothing of the nervous system and inducing a restful sleep.

Notes on elder

  • The leaves and the bark of the elder are poisonous and should only be used as directed. Do not take then internally.


Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1/2 -1 teaspoonful of the dried or fresh blossoms and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. This should be drunk hot three times per day.

Juice: boil fresh berries for 2-3 minutes and then express the juice. To preserve the berries bring the juice to boil with 1 part honey to 10 parts juice. Take 1 glass diluted with hot water twice per day.

Ointment: take 3 parts of fresh elder leaves and heat them with 6 parts of melted Vaseline until the leaves are crisp. Strain and store.

Tincture: take 2-4 mls of the tincture (made from the flowers) three times per day.

For the gardener

Elders can be grown from seed planted in the autumn or by taking a cutting from a mature plant in the early spring or late autumn (use the pieces that are left over from pruning).

Prune elders back very hard every year, either in late autumn or before new growth appears in the spring.

In cool regions where the elder set fruit, birds feeding on the berries can carry the seeds to native bushland. To avoid the spread of seeds into these areas, remove the flower heads before the berries form.

Elders will grow in almost any soil type and will tolerate full sun to partial shade. They will also tolerate the lack of water.


Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

Hoffmann, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

Hoffmann, D. 2001, Healthy Bones and Joints. Newleaf.

McIntyre, A. 1995, The Complete Women's Herbal. Henry Holt Reference Books.

Mills, S. Y. 1989, The A-Z of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Herbal Therapy. Thorson.

Woodward, P. 2003, Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies. Hyland House.




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