Elder

Scientific Name/Common Name: Sambucus nigra / Elder

Part(s) Used: Flower, berry, and leaf

Constituents/Active Ingredients: Flavonoid glycosides rutin, isoquercitrin, and hyperoside; 3% tannins; the anthocyanin glycosides (0.2-1%) sambucin, sambucyanin, and chrysanthemin. The berries and flower blossoms also contain vitamin C, beta carotene, B1, B2, B6, calcium, and phosphorus as well as mucilage, cyanogenic glycosides and the, anti-inflammatory agents ursolic and oleanolic acids. The flowers also contain flavonoids, almost exclusively flavonols and their glycosides, with rutin as the chief component (up to 1.92%), and also isoquercitrin, hyperoside, astragalin, and quercitrin; chlorogenic acid; p-coumaric acid, caffeic and ferulic acids.

Overview: Black elderberries were traditionally used as a laxative, diuretic, cleansing tonic, and treatment for catarrh (mucous of respiratory and digestive tracts). Traditionally, elderberry juice has also been used to treat colds, coughs, and upper respiratory infections. Due to the cyanogenic glycosides in the berries, they should never be eaten raw. Cooking destroys these compounds so the berries were often prepared as jams and syrups. Black elderberry flowers were traditionally used in the treatment of catarrh (mucous of the respiratory and digestive tracts) and to induce sweating in feverish chills. It was recommended that large amounts of the infusion are drunk as hot as possible to help ‘sweat out’ a fever. Traditionally, the blossom tea was also used as a gargle for sore throats and irritated mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. Elderberry flowers and berries are also beneficial in cleansing mucous from the tissues, stimulating peristaltic action in the colon and purifying the blood, kidneys, liver, and skin.

Traditional Use/Benefits/Body Systems: Flower: Traditionally used in herbal medicine to promote sweating and relieve fever in cases of cold and flu; to relieve nasal congestion due to hay fever and sinusitis; as a diuretic and alterative to cleanse and remove waste products via the kidneys, skin, and mucous membranes. Berry: same as flower and additionally to relieve symptoms of cold and flu, to relieve joint pain, and provide antioxidants.

Clinical Studies/Scientific Research/References:

Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester (VT): Healing Arts Press; 2003.

Mills S, Bone K. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. St. Louis (MO): Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2005.

Roxas M, Jurenka J. Colds and influenza: a review of diagnosis and conventional, botanical, and nutritional considerations. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Mar;12(1):25-48. Review.

Disclaimer: This information in our Herbal Encyclopedia is intended only as a general reference for educational purposes. It is not a replacement for medical advice. This content does not provide dosage information, cautions/contraindications, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Please consult any relevant product labels for detailed information on use and with a medical practitioner for individual health advice.