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 Herbal Materia Medica: Elder - Black Elder, European Elder 
Sambucus nigra


Names: Black Elder, European Elder.

Habitat: Europe and the British Isles, commonly growing in hedges.

Collection: The flowers are collected in spring and early summer and dried as rapidly as possible in the shade. The bark and berries are best collected in August and September.

Part Used: Bark, flowers, berries, leaves.

Constituents: Flowers

  • Triterpenes including ursolic acid, 30-[[beta]]-hydroxyursolic acid, oleanolic acid, [[alpha]]- and[[beta]]-amyrin and free and esterified sterols
  • Fixed oil, containing free fatty acids; mainly linoleic, linolenic &palmitic acids, alkanes
  • Flavonoids, including rutin, quercitin and kaempferol etc
  • Miscellaneous; phenolic acids, e.g. chlorogenic acid, pectin, sugars etc. Leaves
  • Triterpenes similar to those found in the flowers
  • Cyanogenetic glycosides, e.g. sambunigrin
  • Flavonoids inchuding rutin and quercitin
  • Miscellaneous, fatty acids, alkanes, tannins. The bark contains phytohaemagglutinins.
Actions: Bark: purgative, emetic, diuretic. Leaves: Externally emollient and vulnerary, internally as purgative, expectorant, diuretic and diaphoretic. Flowers: Diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal, anti-spasmodic. Berries: Diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative.

Indications: The Elder tree is a medicine chest by itself! The leaves are used for bruises, sprains, wounds and chilblains. It has been reported that Elder Leaves may be useful in anointment for tumours. Elder Flowers are ideal for the treatment of colds and influenza. They are indicated in any catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract such as hayfever and sinusitis. Catarrhal deafness responds well to Elder Flowers. Elder Berries have similar properties to the Flowers with the addition of their usefulness in rheumatism.

Priest & Priest tell say it is a "mild diffusive &relaxing diaphoretic with alterative properties, indicated for children subject to frequent febrile reactions. Relaxing to the eliminative organs, soothing tothe nervous system and gently laxative." The indications are: Colds & `flu with dry, hot skin; chronic nasal catarrh or sinusitis; dry coryza; spasmodic croup; weakening nightsweats; skin eruptions from metabolic disturbance; eczema; dermatitis.

Kings' Dispensatory describes the uses of a related species S.canadensis thus: "In warm infusion, Elder Flowers are diaphoretic &gently stimulant; in cold infusion they are diuretic, alterative & cooling, & may be used in all diseases requiring such action, as in hepatic derangements of children, erysipelas. The expressed juice of the berries evaporated to the consistence of a syrup is a valuable aperient and alterative; l ounce of it will purge. An infusion of the young leaf-buds is likewise purgative, and sometimes acts with violence. The flowers and expressed juice of the berries have been beneficially employed in scrofula, cutaneous diseases, syphilis, rheumatism. The inner greenbark is cathartic; and infusion of it in wine or cider, or the expressed juice, will purge moderately, in doses of from l/2 to l fluid ounce; large doses produce emesis; in small ones, it proves an efficient deobstruent, promoting all the fluid secretions, and is much used in dropsy, especially that following scarlatina, and other febrile and exanthematous diseases, as well as in many chronic diseases."

Combinations: For colds and fevers it may be used with Peppermint, Yarrow or Hyssop. For influenza combine it with Boneset. For catarrhal states mix it with Golden Rod.

Preparations & Dosage: Infusion: 1 cup of boiling water onto 2 teaspoonfuls of the dried or fresh blossoms and infuse for l0 minutes. Drinkhot 3 times a day. Juice: boil fresh berries in water for 2 to 3 minutes, thenexpress the juice. To preserve, bring to the boil with l part honey to l0 parts of juice. Take l glass diluted with hot water twice a day. Ointment: take 3 parts of fresh Elder Leaves and heat them with 6 parts of melted vaseline until the leaves are crisp. Strain and store. Tincture: take 2-4ml of the tincture (made from the flowers) three times a day.

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 About The Author
David Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMHWhilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it......more
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