“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed to which it shall be for meat.” (Genesis 1:29)
In the midst of this pandemic, I have heard more times than I can count: “Have you been taking your elderberry?” My mother swears by Elderberry (Sambucus nigra).
Elderberry, which is often shortened to Elder, has a wonderful history in treating all manner of colds and flus, sinusitis and even night sweats (Tierra 78-79). Mom and I both take elderberry as a means of staving off colds and flus as the berries are high in vitamin C. I confess, it is definitely one of the more pleasing herbs to take. The berries can be used in teas, jams, juices, syrups, wines…and, of course, the occasional shot of Black Sambucca. It is delicious no matter what form it takes. The berries can even be given to your dog. Renowned herbalist, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, recommends mixing either crushed elderberries, or an infusion (tea) of elderberries, into your dog’s food if they become anemic (150-151).
The flowers may be used in salves for the treatment of “burns, rashes, minor skin ailments and to diminish wrinkles” (Tierra 133). (And, of course, having just found this last benefit of elder, I’m itching to add some to some facial cream…)
The FDA has not evaluated these statements. This blog post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.
Now, all of that being said, a word of caution: please make sure it is black elderberry (Sambucus nigra, or Sambucus canadensis) that you are using. There is a red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) and it is highly toxic so take care to get your elderberry from a reputable source if you cannot grow it yourself. Also, consuming the unripe fruit, or an “excessive use of the leaves, root or bark can cause nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, tachycardia and convulsions” (Tierra 78-79).
However, there are no known issues with the ripened fruit. Mom and I use it daily and we really do avoid a lot of the illnesses that come and go each cold and flu season.
Some interesting folklore: elder is often called the “Tree of Music” as the hollowed branches are used to make flute pipes and whistles. They can even be used as pea shooters! Bound together, they make great mason bee hotels, too.
Of course, elder was also said to house witches and spirits. In ancient times, people would kneel before the elder tree and recite: “Lady Ellhorn (one of its folk names), give me of thy wood, and I will give thee of mine, when I become a tree” before making that first cut. This was said to give any residents time to escape. The cut branches were hung over doors and windows to protect against evil spirits, robbers and snakes; the berries, carried on one’s person, were said to protect from negativity (I might recommend the dried berries for this last…). Grown in the garden, it will protect against the ravages of sorcery and shields the home from lightning (Cunningham 108-109). It will also bring prosperity into the home.
With all of these wonderful attributes, if you have room to grow it, I would highly recommend it. It is said to be fairly easy to grow. In fact, it has a reputation for being quite prolific. It’s worth a try.
May God bless you & keep you!
Cunningham, Scott. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewellyn Publications, a Division of Llewellyn
De Bairacli Levy, Juliette. The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat. Faber and Faber Limited, 1955.
Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Crossing Press, 2003.
Tierra. Michael. The Way of Herbs. Pocket Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, 1980.