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Elder {Sambucus Canadensis} Monograph


Sambucus Spp.

Common Name

Elderberry, Black Elder, Blue Elder {Sambucus cerulea}, Sweet Elder, Bore Tree



Parts Used

Flowers and ripe berries

Native To

Europe, parts of Asia and Africa

Geographic Distribution

Asia, Africa, Europe, North America

Botanical Description

Pinnately compound leaves with 5-11 leaflets on each rachis* are lance- shaped with toothed margins.

Flowers form complex flat sprays or clumps of white or cream colored flowers with 5 petals and 5 prominent stamen.

Flowers ripen into rounded, glossy fruit in the autumn. The best known varieties used in traditional medicine have black or blue berries.

Key Constituents


  • Vitamins (especially A & C): A is important to growth and development, the immune system, and eyesight. C has powerful antioxidant effects, they are involved in tissue repair, the production of certain neurotransmitters, immune support, and have anti-inflammatory actions. Elderberries also contain thiamine, riboflavin, and vitamin B6.

  • Anthocyanins: The flowers and berries contain anthocyanins (pigments which impart the blue and purple color) which reduce the buildup of uric acid in the joints, so are used to reduce inflammation associated with gout and other forms of arthritis such as rheumatism and osteoarthritis.

  • Flavonoids: Flavonoids have antioxidant activity as well as the ability to bind to viruses and prevent them from replicating.

  • Tannins: Tannins are drying, cooling, soothing, tightening, toning, wound healing.

  • Hydrocyanic Glycoside* Sambunigrine: has the potential to free hydrogen cyanide and become toxic/poisonous, which is why only ripe, cooked or dried berries should be used.


  • Vitamin C: antioxidant activities

  • Essential Oils & Mucilage: soothing vulnerary properties Anthrocyanins: (see berries above)

  • Phenolic Acid: antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Tannins: (see berries above)

Harvesting Guidelines

Flowers: Remove flower clusters and dry flowers for processing. Only remove a few clusters from each tree so that you can harvest berries later on.

Fruit: Collect ripe berry stalks and then separate the berries from the stems. Make sure to harvest ripe, not green fruit. Unripe fruit is TOXIC.

When harvesting don’t take too many flowers from any one tree, allow some clusters to ripen into berries for a later harvest. Always leave some berries on the trees for the birds and other wildlife!


Inflammation-modulating (regulates or reduces inflammation)

Diaphoretic (moves heat to the surface of the body and induces sweating) Vulnerary (wound healing)

Nervine (has an impact of the central nervous system, promotes relaxation) Expectorant (moves mucus, especially from the lungs)

Antibacterial (kills or slows the growth of certain bacteria)

Antiviral (kills or slows the replication of certain viruses)

Astringent (tightens, puckers, tones, and dries tissues)

Taste & Energetics

Slightly sweet



There is a legend that says that the spirit of a wise, old woman named Elda Mor (Elder Mother) inhabits the elder trees. Some say she is the queen of the Faeries, guardian of the liminal spaces. Like the Elder tree, she has the power to heal, but also to harm. If you wish to harvest flowers or berries from the tree, you must first make an offering to show your respect and gratitude, only then will your harvest heal you.

While Elder is probably most well-known for its healing properties, especially as an antiviral during cold and flu season, elder flowers and berries have been used to make food and drink, including nourishing teas, wines, cordials, and jellies. Uses of leaves is lesser-known, but some indigenous Americans did use fresh elder leaf as an external poultice for wounds. The berries seem to get so much more attention lately, but elderflowers are also exceptional allies for cold and flu and have an affinity for the respiratory system. Elderflower cordial is a very popular way to use the flowers, especially in the UK. The flowers, like the berries, contain antiviral compounds, anti-inflammatory compounds, and are rich in vitamin C. They have a diaphoretic and expectorant action AND are also a relaxing nervine! Besides just being delicious as a food or beverage flavoring, the flowers work well as a tea or tincture/glycerite.

The reason why elder is so famous for colds, flus, and respiratory infections is because of its diaphoretic (fever reducing) and antiviral actions as well as its anti-inflammatory and expectorant actions. Let’s study these properties in relationship to a viral infection of the lungs and sinuses (i.e. a cold). When we have a cold it very often affects our head and chest the most. Our lungs are irritated and filled with mucus, our nasal passages swell, and our head aches. Our throat may become sore and swollen due to our immune systems response to the virus which can damage sensitive throat tissues as well as from extended periods of coughing. A preparation of elderberry syrup, when taken at the onset of a cold would cool and calm inflamed tissues in the sinuses, lungs, and throat, make a cough more productive and therefor shorten the duration of the cough by moving excess mucus from the lungs quickly, stop the virus from replicating and infecting our cells, and provide nutrients and well as antioxidants that support revitalization of the body and cell repair. After the pathogen is stopped elder helps to reduce fever and remove toxins by promoting circulation and sweating to get rid of anything lingering in the body.

Numerous studies have been done on elderberry including a 1995 study in which 93.3% of participants who were given elderberry showed significant recovery from flu in only 2 days, while the control group took 6 days to improve. A 2009 study used elderberry extract to test the anti-viral actions agains the H1N1 flu virus in-vitro and discovered that the elderberry extract was binding to the virus, blocking its ability to replicate and infect host cells and was as effective as the antiviral drugs Amantadine and Tamiflu.

Ways to Use

Tincture, Tea, Syrup


Bark, Leaves, Seeds, and unripe Fruit have toxicity characteristics. The safest way to work with elder is to dry the fruit and flowers or process fresh fruit through cooking. Drying and/or heating destroys the Hydrocyanic Glycosides.

**The content of this monograph is for educational purposes only. The author disclaims any liability in connection with the use of this information. Ingesting wild plants is inherently risky. Plants can easily be mistaken and every individual will vary in their physiological response to a plant that is touched or consumed. Please do not attempt self-treatment of a medical problem without consulting a qualified health professional.


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