ELDER BERRY, Sambucus canadensis
Very few herbs have held the prominence in all of Europe that the Elder has during the last three centuries. Its effectiveness as an herb seemed so great to the poor medieval peasants that, in their minds, it had supernatural powers. It became the basis of many superstitions and beliefs.
It was supposed to have the power to protect a person and this property from witches if the leaves and twigs were hung around the doors and windows of his house. If you carried a knotted sprig in your pocket, it was a charm against rheumatism. It was also believed that the elder would never be struck by lightning and the hylde-moer (elder tree mother) would protect the tree and all those around it that loved it. That is why they planted so many elder bushes close around the houses.
However, in spite of all the many old stories and superstitions about the elder tree, it is a very effective herb.
The elder tree or bush grows to a height of about twenty five feet. The blossom or flower, the ripe berry or fruit, and the leaf are mainly used.
The history of the elder goes back before the time of Hippocrates, the father of medicine. Even then, the elder was a favorite herb and praised by all that used this great herb to heal the sick. In 1644, a book was written in Latin called The Anotomie of the Elder. The book had 230 pages and was devoted entirely to the elder tree and all its parts and what it was used for. It covered remedies from toothache to the plague.
The elder flower is one of the best treatments for colds, the flu or a fever. It works even better when combined with a little peppermint and some red raspberry leaf, which makes it taste much better. The berry is an excellent tonic and is said to have a positive effect on rheumatism and arthritis.
The great old herbalist Henry Box said, “For colds, influenza, fevers, inflammation of the lungs, stomach or bowels, elder flowers are a certain cure. I have never known them to fail, even when given up at the point of death. They will not only save at the eleventh hour, but at the last minute of that hour. It is so harmless that you cannot use it amiss, and so effective that you cannot give it in vain.”
The flowers are particularly good for reducing fevers, promoting sweating in a dry fever, as a blood purifier, a mild laxative, a diuretic for mild urinary problems, as an aid to rheumatism and arthritis and for sore inflamed eyes.
The elder leaves are used mostly externally as in poultice. They are very cooling, softening, and are excellent for all kinds of tumors, swellings and wounds. The leaves are also used to make very effective ointments, salves, tinctures and liniments, whether alone or when combined with other herbs.
A seventh century botanical book has a story about a King and his hunting party that came upon a little cottage deep in the forest. An old gentleman was sitting on the porch crying. The King asked why he was crying. The old man said his father had beaten him. The King looked astonished and said, you're an old man, why would your father beat you? The old gentleman replied, “I was carrying my grandfather from one room to another. I slipped and fell and my father beat me for being so clumsy.” The King was invited into the home and talked to the family. He could hardly believe they were so healthy, happy and well preserved, in spite of their advanced years. They told him they had eaten simple foods all their lives and there was always an abundance of elder berries to eat.
The elder is great, learn to know it – you'll be glad you did.