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Elderberry, Sambucus nigra

Elderberry, Sambucus nigra

Family - Adoxaceae

The Elderberry is a lovely little round dark purple berry that grows in cascading cluster which ripen just as the season turns to fall; so conveniently in time to boost our immune systems before cold and flu season.  This potent antiviral can be dried for making a warming, nourishing tea, or used fresh or frozen to make a medicinal tonic or syrup. They can also be stored frozen to add to fortify fresh juices.  And they also make a delicious ‘medicinal’ wineJ.

Why pay for store bought, manufactured tonics when you can plant one elderberry bush, grow it organically, and it requires no care and not even a particularly special environment.  Elderberry just loves to grow and serve us its super protective nutrition.  If growing is not an option, you can purchase dried berries and flowers and still come out ahead and with a superior medicine, with pride that you made it yourself. Although most commonly known for its antiviral properties, Sambucus – the Elder plant has many health benefits.  In fact they have come to be known as a cure-all and are nicknamed “the medicine chest of country people.”

They can used in many forms – juice, syrup, jelly, various cocktails and beverages, spray or simply dried for tea.  However you chose to prepare your elderberries, know that it is important to cook them to avoid ingesting cyanide, which if consumed over time could be deadly. Particularly the branches, leaves and twigs are toxic – pets beware!  Also caution if you are allergic to plants in the honeysuckle family.

Native- to Northern Hemisphere particularly in Europe and North America, Africa and parts of Asia.  Some species are grown in Australia.   The plant has been a folk remedy in for centuries in Northern America, Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa.

Description – It has deciduous leaves, white flowers and berries that turn from green to red to dark purple when ripe. It is commonly found growing in woodlands and hedgerows.  It may grow up to 32 ft. tall.


There is evidence that elderberries may have been cultivated by prehistoric man.

There are also recipes for elderberry-based medications dating back to Ancient Egypt.

Hippocrates described the plant as his “medicine chest” for its ability to cure such a wide array of health concerns.

Romans created hair dye from the juice.  The wood of the elderberry tree is fine grained and polishes easily. Thus it has been used to make combs, toys, skewers for butchers, pegs for shoemakers, and musical instruments.

Native Americans used the plant for healing medicines, foods, charms, ceremonial items, inks, dyes, body paint, jewelry, hunting whistles and musical instruments.

Historically the dried berries have been used for pain relief, swelling, inflammation, to stimulate production of urine and induce sweating, the bark was used as a diuretic, laxative and to induce vomiting.

The dried berries or juice have been used to treat influenza, infections, sciatica, headaches, dental pain, heart pain and nerve pain.

During the 1995 Panama flu epidemic, the government employed its use to fight the flu, which greatly reduced   the time and severity of the flu, thus helping to end the epidemic.

Health Benefits:

Laxative - High in fiber, it can relieve gas and constipation thus improving gastrointestinal health. This also results in better nutrient absorption.  The tea can be soothing to the stomach.

Natural Diuretic – Drink the juice or syrup.

Being a Laxative and Diuretic points to its ability to help Detoxify the body.

Healthy Skin – Rich in bioflavonoids and antioxidants, it encourages a radiant glow of healthy skin.  The antioxidant content supports tone to diminish wrinkles. It is also reported to help fade age spots. The anthocyanin content may improve skin structure and condition.

Lowers Blood Sugar –The antioxidant content of elderberries and the elder flowers help to regulate insulin and glucose levels in the pancreas. Research supports that using both the berries and the elderflowers can stimulate glucose metabolism.

Cold and Flu Relief – Symptoms - sore throat, cough, fever, bronchitis and other respiratory issues are found to be minimized with elderberry juice. The bioflavonoids of the juice fight inflammation and act as an expectorant to help rid phlegm.  The juice is also helpful for asthmatics for improved breathing.

Sinus Infection – Helps to reduce the inflammation of sinus cavities.

Allergy Relief - Elder flowers can improve immune system and calm inflammation

May Help Fight Cancer – The European elderberry plant has been found to delay or reverse cancer. The American elderberry plant has not been found to be chemopreventive.

Improves Heart Health - The high fiber content helps to remove excess cholesterol and enables higher production of HDL Cholesterol needed for good health. It also contains high amounts of potassium which helps to relax blood vessel tension and lower blood pressure.

Improves Bone Health – Anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds alleviate joint pain and soreness.  Often found to counter effects of osteoporosis – loss of bone density. Best to use it early to delay onset.

It has also been found to benefit lupus.

Improves Vision - Rich in vitamin A it can help prevent macular degeneration and slow development of cataracts.

Pain and Inflammation – The tea has been found to have Analgesic properties found to benefit those recovering from illness or surgery.

Yes! This is one powerful berry!

Elderberry Syrup is a standard home remedy:

Combine 1 c. water, 1 c. elderberries,1 Tbs dried ginger root, 1 tsp cinnamon powder, 1 tsp. ground gllove (or stick.) Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes (OR) 45 minutes until half the liquid has cooked down. Remove from heat and Let Cool.  Strain the liquid through a seive, collander or cheese cloth. Add 1/2 c Honey and stir thouroughly.  Store in sterilized glass container....               Yumm

Elderberry Tea

Elderberry flowers (fresh or dried) Add water and steep 5 minutes.  You can add cinnamon and mint.

Taste – European elderberries tend to be tart and bitter whereas American elderberries are typically more sweet.

The elder flowers’ taste is milder than the berries. It has a delicate muscat aroma. I find it to be unique and delicious steeped alone or mixed with other herbs e.g. mint, fennel, fenugreek - all of which are tasty alone, and together make a lovely digestive and sinus relief blend. I call this blend Pleasure Tea. Elder flowers can also be eaten fresh in salads.


 Use good sense if you are hypoglycemic be aware of the potential for further lowering of blood sugar.

 Elderberries can exacerbate certain autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or lupus.

Also Cautioned for use during Pregnancy.


Author, Eve Stahl, is a Health Consultant, Herbalist and Skin Care expert. She specializes in using nature’s plants to enhance the health of people and to protect the health of our planet. To achieve this purpose she has created Garden of Eve Skin Care products for sensitive skin and all skin types. You can visit her company at: www.gardenofeve.com Prospective Affiliates visit: www.gardenofeveskincare.com/affiliate-application

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