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Both the flowers and the berries from the elder tree have medicinal properties


Sambucus nigra Adoxaceae

Elderflowers are a favourite amongst herbalists to support people when they are suffering with colds, flus and in particular fevers. They are also very helpful for a runny nose and congested sinuses.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Commonly cultivated though may be sourced from the wild. Only source cultivated supplies or from certified sustainable wild collection. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Flus
  • Colds
  • Hayfever
  • Fever
  • Immune system
  • Aids circulation
  • Sinusitis
  • Supports the lymphatic system
  • How does it feel?

    The elder tree has a rich and varied history of culinary, medicinal and folklore uses. For centuries it has been associated with warding off evil and providing protection from witchcraft. In more recent times it has become better known for warding off the evil of colds and providing protection from flu.

    There are many species of elder around the world. The most common medicinal species used is Sambucus nigra, or ‘black elder’, a small deciduous tree native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia. Mature trees can grow to heights of 15m and can live for up to 60 years. The trees bear bunches of small creamy-white umbel flowers with a sweet fragrance which are then followed by juicy bunches of characteristically deep purple small and sour berries. Traditionally, almost every part of the tree is used to prepare medicines, tonics and drinks, including the flowers, berries, bark and leaves.

  • What can I use it for?

    Elder berries are a rich source of Vitamin C, Anthocyanins and Flavonoids all of which are powerful antioxidants that protect the body from free radicals.

    Elderberries have a strong affinity for the respiratory system and encourage the process of expectoration reducing acute and chronic mucous congestion. Elderberries are incredibly soothing and will coat the mucous membranes, alleviating sore throats and irritating coughs. Elderberries have also been shown to neutralise the neuraminidase enzyme responsible for helping the virus enter the body and prevent viral proliferation in the respiratory mucous membranes, neutralising 10 strains of flu virus.

  • Into the heart of elderberries

    Elder is particularly cleansing to all mucous membranes in the body, with a particular affinity to the respiratory tract and the skin. It relaxes the eliminative organs and detoxifies the blood and the skin. Elderberries are packed full of anti-viral and anti-inflammatory constituents including the antioxidant Vitamin C. Elderberries are strong immune-modulators and will stimulate activity within the immune system. Elderberry has a direct action upon the flu virus, deactivating the enzyme that encourages its proliferation within the respiratory tract.

    Elder activates pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines to be released from the immune system making it beneficial for both excessive and deficient immunity. They have a strong impact on the immune system, modulating its response and supporting it during periods of deficiency and excess. Elderberries are also a natural form of Vitamin C which is an immune system enhancer and vital co-factor in numerous enzymatic processes in the body including blood vessel formation, wound healing mechanisms, iron absorption and energy transfer.

    Elder is an effective expectorant for the respiratory system, helping to shift stubborn catarrh and mucous in both acute and chronic afflictions of the respiratory system. Elderberries also have a specific action in preventing an enzyme produced by the flu virus from attaching to the cilia in the mucosal membranes of the lungs. Elderflowers have a diaphoretic action which encourages perspiration and can be of particular use in relieving the heat and congestion associated with colds and flu.

    Vitamin C is crucial in protecting cellular membranes and the immune system, with a specific action upon wound healing mechanisms both internally and externally on the skin. It has an astringing and toning effect upon the skin and capillary structure. Elder is also a blood tonic, supporting effective cleansing and detoxification in the blood, ensuring that the blood supplying the skin is healthy.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • Did you know?

    The importance of Elder in centuries past is evident from the popularity of a book published in 1644, which contained 230 pages describing the extraordinary healing properties of the plant.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Leaves may cause a reaction on sensitive skins. Avoid use of root & bark and unripe berries.

  • Dosage

    Dried: 5g daily

    Tincture: 10ml daily

  • Recipe

    Elderberry Elixir

    Our powerful and immune boosting ‘Elderberry Elixir’ recipe is easy to make, enjoyable to drink and a great keep-me-healthy-through-winter herbal remedy.


    • Fresh elderberry 1kg/35oz (or dry)
    • Clove bud 10 buds
    • Cinnamon bark 3 quills
    • Fresh ginger root 10g, about 5cm/2in piece
    • Sugar 250g/9oz


    1. Collect your fresh berries on an autumnday.
    2. Wash and destalk the berries by using a fork as a mini rake.
    3. Put the elderberries in a pan with 1 cup of water and simmer until the berries have released most of their juices (or 1 litre if dry)
    4. Place a sieve over a bowl, pour the berries and the liquid into the sieve and crush the berries with a fork to help strain as much liquid as possible into the bowl.
    5. Pour this juice back in the saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes on a low heat.
    6. Strain again over a bowl. And then decant into sterilised bottles and tightly seal. Store in the fridge for up to 6 months. To drink, add 2 tbsp of Elderberry elixir to a cup of hot water.

    Incredible Immunity Tea

    Bacteria and viruses are most active at lower body temperatures, so when we have a fever, this is in response to our immune system’s effort to reduce microbial overload. That is where this delicious Incredible Immunity Tea recipe below comes in. It helps your immune system fight the infection.


    • Yarrow top 3g
    • Peppermint leaf 3g
    • Elderflower 3g
    • Tulsi leaf 3g
    • Fresh ginger root 3g, about 11/2cm (5/8in)

    This will serve 2–3 cups of flu-free freedom.


    • Put all of the ingredients in a pot. Add 500ml (18fl oz) freshly boiled filtered water.
    • Leave to steep for 5–10 minutes, then strain.
    • Drink while it’s piping hot.

    Recipes from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole

An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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