elderflower large Elder

Elder | Sambucus nigra

general characteristics

general characteristics

Common names include elder, black elder, common elder, Lady elder, Bourtree. A woody shrub and member of the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family, native to the UK and Europe, North America and Canada.


The elder can be either a tree or shrub in growth habit, often depending on whether it was cut at any point in its life, cutting encourages a more shrubby like growth. In spring, when the leaves are fully opened, the large flat flower clusters begin to show their tight green buds which open into highly scented creamy white flowers around June. The flowers then give way to dark black/purple berries held on red stems in the autumn.


It has been considered a sacred and magical tree all over Europe for centuries, many countries still observe the old customs and rituals to honour this tree which is dedicated to the all powerful matriarchal Goddess. Prayers were offered before gathering any part of the tree. Most associate the elder with warding off evil. It is thought by some to be very unlucky to cut down an elder tree or to burn its wood and in Germany it is Hollerbusch, the tree of the underworld. It has been said that if you bury your sins beneath an elder tree, they will be forgiven. Judas is said to have hung himself from an elder



Organic elder berries and flowers as both dried herb and tincture are available to buy in our herbal shop.


harvesting and preparation

harvesting and preparation

Harvest elder flowers when the whole heads are predominantly open (May/June) and before they start to go brown. Pick the whole head at the base of the large stalk and lay gently in a basket or cloth bag. Flowers bruise and spoil very easily so be as delicate as you can. Lay the flower heads face down on a tray lined with cloth or paper and allow to dry completely. Elder flowers are magnets to insects so expect a certain amount of insect action in your kitchen as they leave the drying flowers. When fully dried, rub gently between the fingers to remove the flowers from the stalks. Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark cupboard.
Pick elder berries in the same way, pick the whole, ripe heads and lay carefully in a basket or cloth bag. The berries burst very easily so use old bags/baskets for collecting as they will be stained purple by the end of the process. Lay the heads gently on a tray lined with old cloth or paper and wait until completely dry. When the berries are shrivelled and very dry, gently use a fork to comb the berries off the stalks. Put the dry berries in an airtight jar and store in a cool dark place.
You can of course pick or comb the berries off their stalks when still fresh but I never have much luck with this as the berries bruise so easily and spoil as they dry, not a problem if using them fresh or making them into syrups/jams of course.


Organic elder berries and flowers as both dried herb and tincture are available to buy in our herbal shop.





The Elder tree is prominent in the folklore of many cultures where it grows. Associated with the essence of the divine feminine, Elder is considered a Goddess tree and the number 13 is aligned with her.


To me she is the dark one, the midwife of the soul, the dark moon or crone aspect of womanhood, Hecate, the Grandmother, holding all the precious wisdom and healing that is distilled from a life lived deeply. Call on her and she will stand with us at the end of something (a life, a relationship, a habit) to see us through to a new beginning. Her steadfast protection allows us to transition from one state to another safely as she guards us with her unconditional love.


She is the dark of the moon where old unwanted things are cast away in order for new and welcomed things to begin to grow in their place. Her domain is the dark of the Underworld, the unconscious portion of ourselves, the shadow aspect even. She stands at the threshold between worlds, between lives, between projects - never in judgement, just guarding and holding the space and enabling us to safely pass through.


Her spirit medicine is strong and her Grandmotherly love offers us steadfast protection for when we are lost in the darkness or when we feel out of control. Her physical medicine helps keep our immune sysyem healthy and protects us from pathogens, whilst building and restoring us deep down from the cellular level.


Here is a nice link to all things Elder related, both seen and unseen.


A deep diving article on Elder and how spending quality time in her energy can help heal the traumas of today and right down the ancestral line.

therapeutic actions and uses

therapeutic actions and uses

The elder tree has been hailed 'the medicine chest' due to the fact that all parts of the tree are medicinal. The most commonly used parts medicinally are the flowers and berries but the leaves, bark and roots also have their uses.

Elder flowers are anti-catarrhal and can also be used for the entire respiratory system against hayfever, sinusitis, coughs, whooping cough, colds, bronchial catarrh, pleurisy, asthma, breathing difficulties, catarrhal deafness and ear infection, bronchitis, laryngitis, pharyngitis and hoarseness of the voice, chronic sore throat, inflamed gums, mouth ulcers, quinsy and tonsillitis and for infected or swollen adenoids.
Elder flowers make a good eye wash for tired and inflamed eyes, conjunctivitis, styes and to improve vision generally (leaves also).
The cold tea can be used a wash for improving the skin and complexion and when made into a cream is said to good against wrinkles.
Diuretic when taken as a cold tea, promoting the flow of urine and act as a a tonic to the kidneys.
Can be used with other herbs in diverticular disease.
Can be useful for rheumatism, gout and chilblains as a tea and/or compress.
Encourages sweating when taken as a hot tea so are good in fevers to gently lower the temperature and cool the body. The cold tea can also be useful against night sweats. Take hot, as a tea, at the first sign of a cold, flu or infection and against eruptive fevers like measles, scarlet fever, rubella and for childhood convulsions.
Infuse around 4g of powdered elder flower in half a glass of white wine overnight and drink in the morning to improve the voice.
Elderflower tea can also be taken at night to help ensure a good nights sleep and to allay bad dreams and childhood nightmares. They have a long held reputation for soothing anxiety, alleviating depression and lifting the spirits and mood.
Use as part of a circulation improving formula against bouts of fainting.



Contain good amounts of vitamin C, iron and are very rich in flavanoids and antioxidants.
The iron rich berries are good medicine for those with anaemia.
They can be used to strengthen fragile blood vessels and to prevent damage to the inner linings of blood vessels as shown in this research extract.
They are also exceptionally rich in polyphenols and other antioxidant substances, making them extremely valuable as a remedy for maintaining overall good health. They have a role to play in cancer prevention, are anti-inflammatory and can protect against high cholesterol also.
The berries are a gentle laxative to relieve constipation.
The berries can also be useful to protect the body against inflammation and infection in diabetes as discussed here.
Elder berries are known to possess anti-viral properties and as such are very useful against colds, flu, fevers, herpes virus (both cold sores and genital), mumps, warts, bird and swine flu (and probably all other future strains of flu!), glandular fever and even stops the replication of viral infections such as HIV. They can also be used in the treatment of conditions such as M.E.
Use a strong tea to dye the hair black but make sure to test a strand first!
The green inner bark (scrape the outer bark off to reveal) is a strong laxative and emetic (promotes vomiting) and diuretic.
The leaves are good for bruises, for keeping the hair dark (when used as a hair rinse), as a wash for skin complaints and improving the complexion.
Use fresh crushed leaves on haemorrhoids to relieve pain and swelling.
Use 6-8 fresh leaves as a tea and drink an hour before lunch to cleanse the body fluids and blood' states the 19thC herbalist monk, Abbe Kneipp. Also to purify the skin.
The crushed fresh leaves, when rubbed on the skin or made into a tea and rubbed on the skin are said to keep insects and flies away.
Here is a link to an excellent article detailing the historic and modern uses of the elder, including delicious recipes such as wines, syrups and infusions.
Another very informative monograph on elder produced by the American Botanical Council.

dosage and cautions

dosage and cautions

Elder flower is non toxic and can be taken regularly.
The berries are best simmered in water for a while as in their raw state they can upset the tummy.
Avoid using the leaves and bark if pregnant or breastfeeding.


Dried flowers in tea form: 2 teaspoons per cup, 3 times daily or every 2 hours in acute infections.

Dried berries in tea form: 10g of dried berries, simmered in half a litre of water for 10 minutes, 3 times daily.

Flower tincture: 2-4 ml, 3 times daily.

Berry tincture: 2.5-5ml up to 3 times daily.

Add 12 to the child’s age. Divide the child’s age by the total.
E.g. dosage for a 4 year old...... 4 {age} divided by 16 {age + 12} = . 25  or 1/4 of the adult dosage.







Child watering plants




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