By Jordan Douglas, HHC
Sambucus nigra, commonly known as elder, is a tall evergreen with creamy white flowers that yield to characteristic purple berries in the fall. Elder is rich in flavonoids, phenylpropanoids, triterpenes, sterols, tannins, and certain glycosides. The flavonoids, namely anthocyanins, serve as antioxidants and give the elder berries their rich purple color. Both the flower and the berry are used as medicine. Traditionally elder has been used as an anti-catarrhal and an anti-inflammatory. The berries are traditionally used for their antiviral properties and the flowers used for the diaphoretic properties. Energetically, elder is sweet and cooling. Elder has a rich history steeped in folklore and mysticism. The wood of the elder plant was used for everything from musical instruments and fences to possibly the cross of Judas.
Elder can be enjoyed as a hot or cold tea for colds and winter woes, especially where night sweats or chronic nasal catarrh are involved. Elderberry syrup is often suggested for coughs and other upper respiratory conditions. It can be enjoyed as a daily seasonal wellness tonic or for more acute immune concerns. The flower can be used as a gargle for sore throats. Elder is a very safe plant, though some precautions should be taken due to glycoside constituents. The berries contain cyanogenic glycosides, and therefore should never be consumed raw - only cooked. The leaves are also considered toxic and should not be used.
There are a variety of preparations for elder. The flowers can be enjoyed as an infusion, either hot or cold, while the berries are best prepared as a decoction. Elderberry syrup, gummies, tincture and capsules are also widely available. There are many great quality elder products on the market, but elderberry syrup is very simple to make at home.
Elderberry Syrup Recipe:
- 1/2 - 1/3 cup dried elderberries
- 3 cups water
- 3/4 cup sugar or 1 cup raw honey
- Optional add ins: ginger, cinnamon sticks, clove
- Place the berries (and optional add ins, if using) in a medium saucepan and cover with the water.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half.
- Smash the berries gently, then strain. Discard the berries and allow the mixture to cool.
- Once cooled, add the honey or sugar and stir very well.
- Transfer to a glass bottle and store in the refrigerator.
- Enjoy 1.5 teaspoons daily for ongoing immune support, or up to 4 tablespoons daily for more acute support.