“Magical” might be the best way to describe the Black Elder (Sambucus nigra)! Its creamy white flowers form sweetly scented umbels in late spring followed by juicy blue-black berries that offer food and medicine to birds and humans alike. Surrounded by mystery and folklore, the Elder plant must be one of the best known and best loved plants in Western herbal history.
I first met Elder when I was a teenager growing up in rural California and have since enjoyed incorporating this plant into flavorful jellies, wines and dessert treats- not to mention an array of medicinal herbal products. Below is just a sampling of how you can incorporate the magic of the Elder plant into your life. This joyful plant has so much to offer!
10 Magical Ways to Incorporate Elderberry into Your Life
1. Elderberry Syrup
Elderberries make some of the best syrup you’ll ever taste! Elder’s berries have immune-enhancing and antiviral properties. The berries are helpful in treating viral infections including flu, herpes, and shingles. Elderberries contain organic pigments, tannin, amino acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, sugar, rutin, viburnic acid, vitamin A and B and a large amount of vitamin C. They are also mildly laxative, diuretic, and diaphoretic. I recommend this fabulous recipe from Helen Ward, Director of The Science & Art of Herbalism Course and caretaker of Three Springs Farm, for a simple and tasty Elderberry syrup.
Helen Ward’s Elderberry Syrup
- 2 cups Fresh Elderberries or 1 cup dried
- 4 cups Water
- 1/2 cup Honey
- Add Elderberries to 4 cups of water and simmer for one hour.
- Stir in your healing intentions. This is a very important step! As the medicinal qualities of the Elderberries infuse into the water, you could sing your favorite song, share a prayer or say “May this Elderberry Syrup bring love and good health to those who drink it!” Whichever you choose (or all of them), know that you are infusing your own magic.
- Strain the berries and place them in the compost.
- Put the Elderberry juice back in the pot, bringing it to a simmer. Add ½ cup honey, making sure it completely melts and infuses creating the perfect Elderberry Syrup.
- Bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks. (Honey acts as a preservative, since this recipe has half the typical honey added to a medicinal syrup, make sure to refrigerate).
Adults: Take 2 teaspoons Elderberry syrup daily.
Children: Take 1 teaspoon daily. For intensive use:
Adults: Take 2 teaspoons Elderberry syrup four times daily.
Children: Take 1 teaspoon four times daily.
2. Elderberry Fizz
Add your homemade Elderberry syrup to sparkling water for a delicious and vitamin-rich “soda”! For a drink with a little more spice, visit our “How to Make Elderberry Syrup” blog for another favorite syrup recipe featuring Ginger and Clove.
3. Elderberry Tincture
Helen Ward's Elderberry Tincture
- Vodka (80 proof)
- Glass jar with tight-fitting lid
- Take a glass jar and fill with 1/3 dried organic Elderberries or 1/2 full with fresh Elderberries. Cover with vodka (80 proof).
- Put on the lid and shake vigorously while adding your intentions, sweet energy and prayers for health and well-being.
- Shake the jar each day for 4-6 weeks while continuing to add your prayers, songs and intentions.
- Strain and bottle.
2 dropperfuls daily for maintenance
2 dropperfuls 4 times per day for acute symptoms When I feel a virus coming on, Elderberry is best when taken in small and frequent doses. I will often take two dropperfuls every 15-30 minutes until symptoms subside. Then make sure to keep maintaining the elderberry in your system so the virus does not come back.
4. Fever Reducer
Elderflowers are a strong but gentle diaphoretic (diaphoretics induce perspiration) suitable for use in children. This is a traditional formula for childhood ills that involve fever and stress.1Excerpted from Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health © 2008 by Rosemary Gladstar, published by Storey Publications. All rights reserved.
Catnip-Elder Fever-Reducing Tea
- 2 parts Catnip
- 2 part Elder blossoms
- 1 part Echinacea root
- 1 part Peppermint
- Mix the herbs and store in an airtight container.
- To make the tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of the herb mix and steep for 1 hour. Administer every 30 minutes. Dose depends on child’s size, age, and general constitution.
5. A Special Dessert
Elderflowers offer their own magic and can be lightly battered and fried as a special treat. Though it would be a stretch to call these fritters ‘health food,’ studies show that Elderflowers have medicinal powers, including anti-viral and diaphoretic properties.2Sidor, A., & Gramza-Michałowska, A. (2015, October 1). Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food -a review. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464614002400.
- 3 Egg yolks
- 1 cup Flour
- 1 tsp Oil
- 1/2 cup Milk
- 20 to 30 Elder blossom clusters Leave a fairly long stem on them.
- In a large mixing bowl combine 3 egg yolks, 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon oil and 1/2 cup milk. Mix well.
- Beat the egg whites to a froth and stir in. You will need about 20 to 30 Elder blossom clusters. Leave a fairly long stem on them. Check for insects; they love to hide in the small white blossoms.
- Dip the blossom clusters in the batter and fry in a pan full of sizzling hot oil. Fry until a golden brown. Drain on paper towels. These are traditionally served with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. I prefer them with wild jams or honey.
6. Skin Health
Elderflower skin products are anti-aging, mildly astringent and nutritive for the epidermis.3 Brandolini, L. (2019, December 16). 3 WAYS MAGIC ELDERFLOWER BENEFITS YOUR SKIN. Rawbeauty Skincare. https://rawbeautyskincare.com.au/blogs/news/3-ways-magic-elderflower-benefits-your-skin Elderflowers are excellent at balancing out excessive oils and can help to reduce acne. Some also make a salve from the leaves.
7. Heart Health
This berry mix, with the addition of hearth-healthy Linden blossom and Hawthorn berry, leaf and flower, makes a delicious and nutritious tincture for heart health.4Excerpted from Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide © 2012 by Rosemary Gladstar, published by Storey Publications. All rights reserved.
Nutritive Heart Tonic Tincture
- 2 parts Elderberry dried
- 2 parts Linden flower
- 2 parts Rose hip dried
- 1 part Blueberry dried
- 1 part Hawthorn berry, leaf and flower dried
- 80 proof alcohol or unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
- Select a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Chop the herbs and place them into the clean, dry jar.
- Pour enough alcohol (or apple cider vinegar, if using) to completely cover the mixture by 2 to 3 inches. Seal the jar. Make sure the herbs remain covered by the liquid; add more if necessary.
- Place the jar in a warm, sunny spot and let the herbs macerate (soak) for 4 to 6 weeks. Shake daily.
- Strain the herbs from the liquid (offer the spent herbs to the compost goddess). Pour the liquid into a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool, dark spot. An alcohol-based tincture will keep for many years and a vinegar-based tincture one at least 1 year (often much longer).
- To use: Take 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon two or three times daily for 5 days. Repeat the cycle for several weeks or even months.
8. Garden Guardian
There is probably no plant in herbal history that has been written about with more enthusiasm ~ or surrounded with mystery ~ than the rather humble Elder. The folklore is immense. As Matthew Wood states in The Book of Herbal Wisdom: “This is one of the premier plants utilized in herbal medicine and folklore of Europe.”5Wood, M. (1997). The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines (1st Edition). North Atlantic Books. In northern Europe the Elder was referred to as the “Hylde-Moer,” or highly regarded “Elder Mother,” and she was planted in the corner of nearly every herb garden to guard and protect the household as well as the other plants of the garden.
9. House Protector
Andrew Chevalier, a noted English herbalist, writes, “Elder has more folklore attached to it than any other European plant.”6Chevallier, A. (1996). The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants: A Practical Reference Guide to over 550 Key Herbs and Their Medicinal Uses. DK Publishing. In England, crosses were often made of Elder wood and placed on the graves of the deceased in hopes it would bring peace to the departed. Mention of Elder is often found in early fairy tales; in more than one Hans Christian Anderson story Elder serves as the doorway to the magical fairy realms.
10. Emotional Support
Flower essences have carried me through periods of intense emotional turmoil. Elderflower essence can bring a magical spark in times of distress. As the herbalists at Green Hope Farm note, “If life calls you to hold light amidst great darkness, Elderberry is the perfect ally. It is an immense and ancient chalice of light that illuminates and defies the dark. The darker the circumstances, the more Elderberry brings its full voltage and ability to rise up and hold the light.”7https://www.greenhopeessences.com/essences/elderberry
A Word of Caution
Only the cooked, ripe berries of the black Elder (Sambucus nigra) are edible. Unripe or raw berries can cause digestive upset and diarrhea in some people.8Fossum, G., Saboni, M., & Berit Samuelsen, A. (2014, January 28). Assessment report on Sambucus nigra L., fructus. European Medicines Agency. https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/herbal-report/final-assessment-report-sambucus-nigra-l-fructus_en.pdf
In addition to figuring prominently in herbal history and folklore, the Elder is also used extensively as a popular food source and respected source of herbal medicine. Elderberries, flowers and leaves all offer their own medicinal and nutritional benefits. I hope that you will invite Elder into your life and experience the magic of this special plant!