Elder, Sambucus nigra L. ssp. canadensis (L.)

Elder is referred to time and again as “the medicine chest for the country people”, alluding to its wide-ranging medicinal actions and ready availability. In the 4th century B.C.E., Hippocrates recommended elderberry for a wide variety of complaints (Johnson et al., 2010). The flowers, berries and leaves are harvested and used dried for tea or extracted in a tincture. The flowers and berries are used to make wine, cordials, champagne, and jelly. Elder bark is also used for its purgative, emetic and diuretic actions, but is toxic if prepared incorrectly, so rely on a highly informed herbalist for this purpose.

Elderflower and elderberry are both exceptional allies during colds, flu, and respiratory infections due to their diaphoretic and antiviral actions. Taken as a hot tea (or tincture), elderflowers move energy and qi outward by stimulating circulation and promoting sweating, removing toxins from the body and reducing fever after its work of killing pathogens is done. Elderflower is also anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal and expectorant, and helps in cases of colds, sinusitis and sinus allergies to reduce inflammation of sinus tissue and allow for the movement of congestion. Research reviewed by Ulbricht et al. (2014) suggests that “herbal preparations containing elder may result in less swelling of mucus membranes, better drainage, milder headache, and decreased nasal congestion.” Elderberry is also effective for coughs and congestion associated with lower respiratory viral infections, promoting expectoration of mucus associated with bronchial infections.

Elderberry tincture or syrup is a mainstay in many an herbalist’s apothecary, as the go-to herb at the very initial signs of cold or flu. Taken at onset, elderberry can reduce the duration of cold/flu because it interferes with virus replication, and strengthens cell walls to inhibit viral penetration (Hoffmann, 2003). Elderberry has been the subject of numerous research studies. In one placebo-controlled, double-blind study using Sambucol (a syrup containing elderberry juice), significant improvements in flu symptoms were seen in 93.3% of the elderberry treated group within 2 days. Only 91.7% of the patients in the control group showed improvement within 6 days (Zakay-Rones, 1995). An in-vitro study on elderberry extract and H1N1 flu infection identified the anti-viral components of elderberry and “established that flavonoids from the elderberry extract bind to H1N1 virions and, when bound, block the ability of the viruses to infect host cells” (Roschek, et al, 2009). The researchers concluded that the H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to Tamil and Amantadine.

Elderflowers and elderberries are anti-inflammatory.


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