Latin: Sambucus nigra
Part Used: flower
Constituents: flavonoids, sambunigrin, tannins
Medicinal Actions: diaphoretic
The folklore surrounding the Elder tree is extensive. Elder bushes were often planted at the edge of the herb garden for protection. Some traditions thought it would guard against witchcraft, while others say that witches would gather beneath it, or that a witch could transform herself into an Elder tree. In Ireland, the Elder tree was considered cursed or unlucky, possibly because of its association with the fairy folk, and you’d be advised to not fall asleep beneath one lest the wee folk lure you away in your slumber.
Historically, Elder Flowers have been infused into ales, cordials, vinegars, and water, while ancient physicians and botanists praised it as “the medicine chest of the country people.”
According to Grieve, Elder Flower Water has traditionally been used for “clearing the complexion of freckles and sunburn, and keeping it in a good condition,” and it was common to find a bottle on household toiletry tables.
Uses & Combinations
Elder Flower is a diaphoretic, which means it induces sweating and is useful for helping to lower fevers. For this purpose it can be combined with peppermint, yarrow, and hyssop. Historically, it has also been used to treat bronchial and pulmonary issues, as well as for treating scarlet fever. For all these reasons, it is often used as a cold and flu remedy, and vinegar infused with Elder Flowers is an old remedy for sore throats.
Elder Flower is found in skincare products, where its valued for its astringent and mildly stimulating quality. It’s also popular in culinary uses, and can be found in preserves, cordials, and liqueurs. Elder Flower has seen a culinary resurgence in recent years as a flavouring for sparkling waters, tonic waters, and cordials. It appears in cocktails, as well, with the increased popularity of St. Germain, a French Elder Flower liqueur.
Rosemary Gladstar’s Cold Care Remedy
1 part elder flower
1 part peppermint
1 part yarrow
Cover ingredients in boiling water and allow to infuse for 45 minutes to make a very strong brew.
Features & Cultivation
The Elder tree can reach up to 30 feet tall and prefers rich, moist soil. It thrives best in partial shade to full sun. You can collect the flowers in spring and early summer when it’s frothy white blossoms are in full bloom.