Elderberry – Herbs For Alternative Medicine


The American elder (canadensis), also known as Elderberry, is small tree that grows to 12 feet and is native to North America. The European elder (nigra) grows to 30 feet, is found throughout Europe, Asia, North Africa, and has been naturalized in the United States. Elderberries are edible purple- black, soft-skinned berry from the black elder. The tree has been called “the medicine chest of the common people.

Elderberries are one the richest source of anthocyanins, which are the largest group of water-soluble pigments in plants. Anthocyanins stimulate the body’s immune system by increasing the production of disease-fighting lymphocytes. The berries from the elder contain a considerable amount of vitamins A, B and C, as well as flavonoids, sugar, tannins, carotenoids and amino acids. The berries contain more vitamin C than any other herb except rosehips and black currant.

Elder leaves contain the flavonoids rutin and quercertin, alkaloids, vitamin C and sambunigrin, a cyanogenic glucoside. Fresh elder leaves also contain hydrocyanic acid, cane sugar, invertin, betulin, free fatty acids, and a considerable quantity of potassium nitrate. Elder flowers and elder flower water have been used in a variety of ways topically and as a tonic mixture.

The fruits have been used to make elderberry wine, and when cooked, can be used in pies and jams.

Claims and Common Uses:

  • Raw berries have laxative and diuretic properties
  • Has powerful antioxidant properties and enhances immune system function.
  • Warm elderberry wine is a remedy for sore throat, influenza and increases perspiration to lower a fever
  • The juice from the berries is an old fashioned cure for colds, and is also said to relieve asthma and bronchitis
  • Infusions of the fruit are beneficial for nerve disorders, back pain, and fights inflammation of the urinary tract and bladder.
  • Bark is an old treatment for epilepsy
  • The root is used for kidney ailments.
  • A mild astringent used in skin washes to help relieve eczema, acne and psoriasis.
  • Flower water is used to make a soothing gargle and when strained soothes the eyes.
  • Used topically for infections, inflammations and swelling.
  • Leaves are an effective insect repellent.
  • The leaves and flowers are a common ingredient in ointments and poultices for burns and scalds, lesions, swelling, cuts and scrapes
  • Cooked and used in jams, syrups and conserves.

Parts Used: Inner bark, roots, leaves, flowers, and berries

Preparations: Elderberries are edible when cooked

Side Effects and Warnings of Elderberry:

  • Do not eat the berry unless it is cooked.
  • Do not consume the stems of the plant. The stems contain cyanide and can be very toxic.
  • The seeds are toxic and may induce vomiting and nausea
  • Do not use leaf buds
  • The fresh plant is poisonous
  • Store-bought elderberry preparations (teas, salves) are safe.