Herb of the Month: Elderberry


Last updated 11/11/2020 at 10:59am

This month, in keeping with the immune-building herbs I've been featuring to help all of you through this season, we are going to learn about elderberry. It is a wonderful herb and if you are blessed to have an elderberry tree, you have a never-ending supply of berries to make your own syrup.

Elderberries come from a small tree with many small trunks rising directly from the ground. It grows to 30 feet. Flowers are tiny (1/5 inch), white, in large, saucer-like umbels, to 8 inches. Leaves are dull green, divided into slender leaflets to 3 1/2 inches. Fruit are clusters of deep purple black, round fruit that is juicy when ripe. It normally blooms in June.

Constituents: Flowers: essential oil, flavonoids (rutin, quercertin), phenolic acids, triterpenes, sterols, mucilage, tannins, alkaloids, anthocyanins, vitamin C. Berries: flavonoids, sugar, fruit acid, vitamins A and C.

Medicinal: Key actions – Flowers: expectorant, reduces phlegm, circulatory stimulant, promote sweating, diuretic, topically anti-inflammatory; Berries – promote sweating, diuretic, laxative; Bark – purgative, promotes vomiting, diuretic; topically – emollient. The berries help coughs, colic, sore throats, asthma and flu. A pinch of cinnamon makes the tea more warming. The berries have also been taken for rheumatism and erysipelas. They are mildly laxative and also help diarrhea.

The flowers are infused for fevers, eruptive skin conditions such as measles and severe bronchial and lung problems. The infusion is relaxing and produces a mild perspiration that helps to reduce fever. The flowering tops tone the mucous linings of the nose and throat, increasing their resistance to infection. They are prescribed for chronic congestion, allergies, ear infections and candidiasis. Infusions of the flowering tops and other herbs can reduce the severity of hay fever attacks if taken for some months before the onset of the hay fever season. A classic flu remedy is a mixture of elderflower, yarrow and peppermint teas. By encouraging sweating and urine production, elder flowering tops promote the removal of waste products from the body and are of value in arthritic conditions.

The specific compounds in elder flowers have not been well established for the diuretic and laxative properties. The compound sambuculin A and a mixture of alpha- and betaamyrin palmitate have been found to exhibit strong antihepatotoxic activity against liver damage induced experimentally by carbon tetrachloride. The bark's energetics are bitter and toxic. Only bark that has been aged for a year or more should be used or cyanide poisoning may result. The Western species are more toxic. Pregnant or nursing mothers should NOT use the bark or anything made from it at all.

This herb has two compounds that are active against flu viruses. It also prevents the virus from invading respiratory tract cells. A patented Israeli drug (Sambucol) that contains elderberry is active against various strains of viruses. It also stimulated the immune system and has shown some activity in preliminary trials against other viruses, such as Epstein-Barr, herpes and even HIV.

Here's an easy recipe to make your own syrup. Many in the stores have added sugar, which is the last thing you need when trying to build the immune system! You should be able to get the dried herbs at your local health/herb store, but be aware: during cold and flu season, the berries disappear very quickly. You can also order online from Mountain Rose Herbs, or Frontier Herbs.


2 cups dried organic elderberries

4 cups cold water (distilled, purified, or spring water works best)

2-3 tsp. organic dried ginger root

1 organic sweet cinnamon stick

5 dried clove buds

1 cup raw, local honey (double the amount of sweetener to increase shelf life)


1. Combine berries and herbs with cold water in pot and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce heat and allow herbs to simmer 30 to 40 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and let steep 1 hour.

4. Strain berries and herbs using a funnel overlaid with doubled cheesecloth or undyed cotton muslin bag and squeeze out liquid (careful, liquid will likely still be hot!). Discard used herbs in compost.

5. Once liquid has cooled to just above room temperature, add honey and stir to incorporate.

6. Bottle in sterilized glass. Keep in your refrigerator and take a tablespoon every day from October to April to keep you and your family healthy during the cold and flu season.

Until next month,

Valere! (Be Well!)


Editor's note: Have questions for the herbalist? Email them to: [email protected]

RitaE/Courtesy of Pixabay


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