"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"

     Elder is one of the human race's oldest plant allies because it has been found in Stone Age sites. Elder flower has been used since antiquity as a diaphoretic and diuretic. Elder was written of and used in the time of Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and through the centuries by many other ancient herbalists. It is written about and used by modern herbalists today.

The name Sambucus, which is Elder genus, appears in the writings of Pliny and other ancient writers and more than likely comes from the Greek word Sambucca, the Sackbut, which was an ancient musical instrument. It was made from Elder because of the woods hardness, so not only did the plant heal the body, it also made music to heal the soul. These instruments were much used by the Romans. The problem some historians have with this is that the Sambucca was a stringed instrument and most likely anything made from Elder would be a wind instrument like a pan-pipe or a flute. Pliny records the belief held by the country folks was "that the shrillest pipe and most sonorous horn were made from Elder trees."  In Italy, people presently make simple pipes called Sampogna from Elder branches.

The word "Elder" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "Auld."  In those days there were trees called Eldrun, which become Hyldor and Hyllantree in the 14th century. One of its names in modern Germany is Hollunder, which probably comes from the same origin. In Low-Saxon the name is Elhorn, which means fire, because the branches of Elder have a soft, white pith in the middle, which can be pushed out quite easily, and the hollow tubes were used for blowing up fires. The name Pipe-tree, Bore-tree, and Bour-tree are still used in Scotland today and are traced back to the Anglo-Saxon form, Burtre. The French name for Elder is Sureau.

Elder has been valued for it's medicinal uses for thousands of years and is considered sacred and magical in folklore mythology and treated with great respect. The English said their summer had not arrived until the Elder was in full bloom and that it ended when the berries were ripe.

Elder holds a place of fondness, in the hearts of the English people, for its uses and beauty. In " Loves Labor Lost" reference is made to the common medieval belief that Judas was hanged in an Elder. This can be found in literature as far back as the middle of the 14th century.

Another old tradition was that the cross of Calvary was made of Elder, and because of  this Elder became an emblem of sorrow and death.

An old custom of Gypsies forbade them to use Elder to build their campfires. Even today one sometimes comes across a hedge-cutter that will not trim an Elder tree for fear of bad luck. Elder's narcotic smell made some think it was not wise to sleep under its shade.

In Denmark, the Elder is connected with magic. In its branches was supposed to live a dryad, Hylde-Moer, the Elder tree mother who lived in the tree and watched over it. If the tree was cut down and made into furniture, Hylde-Moer was believed to follow her property and haunt the Owners.

In earlier days, the Elder tree was supposed to ward off evil influence and give protection from witches. Green Elder branches were buried in the graves to protect the dead from witches.  In 1664  John Evelyn ballyhooed Elder as a "…Catholicon against all infirmities whatever." It was said to be a curative for more than 70 diseases from plague to toothache. The flower tincture was even said to restore sight to the blind. Both syrup of Elder berries and rob of Elder berries were once official in England, the rob being the oldest of the two and the one that retained its
place in the pharmacopoeia. There were at least six or seven  robs listed in the Londo
pharmacopoeia. They were thicker than a syrup but the ingredients were the same except, sugar was added to most of the robs. Brookes in 1773 strongly recommended it as a "saponaceous resolvent promoting the natural secretions by stool, urine, and sweat, and diluted with water for common colds."  John Wesley in his "Primitive Physick" directs Elder robs to be taken in broth.

In Germany it was used as an ingredient in soups. In 1788 its name was changed to "saccus sanbuci spissatus" and in 1809 it disappeared altogether.

Elder berries were listed in the official pharmacopoeias for a few years during the 19th century and the flowers for nearly a century long period, spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. The flowers were listed as mildly stimulant, carminative, and diaphoretic. Until the end of the 19th century hot Elder berry wine was sold in the streets of London on cold nights and days to cheer travelers and workers. Cinnamon was often added to the wine to aid in the warming effects.

Elder was used in many countries by many people and the Native Americans in this continent had been using it for a long time also. Some New World settlers studied Indian medicine and wrote medicinal guides. A few old Indian folk medicine guides listed the bark and flowers as diuretic, purgative, and emetic. In one guide J.I. Lighthall wrote "The foggy idea of cutting the bark up and down, reversing its medical action, that is, vomiting and purging, is all bosh. It is all owing to the size of the dose, and not the way the bark is cut. In large doses it will vomit, and in smaller ones act as a purgative. Any superstitious reader doubting this will be convinced of the fact by trying it on their own bodies. We obtain positive facts in reference to the action of medicine in different doses, by trying them on ourselves. I speak from experience, not book reading," Lighthall repeated a number of common Indian uses for Elder stating that " hot tea of flower had a diaphoretic effect, a diuretic effect when taken cold. A tea of bark taken in tablespoon doses three of four swallows every few minutes would make you throw up." A few other common Indian remedies were, the Mohegans used tea of Elder flower for babies colic discomforts. The Menominees drank a tea of dried flowers to reduce fevers. The Houna Indians made a wash of boiled bark for inflammations. Meskwakis used a tea of the root bark to bring on the expulsion of phlegam, to help headaches, and to encourage labor. Choctaws pounded Elder leaves and mixed them with salt, then applied this to the head for headaches. The wide use of Elder by the Native Americans, combined with the old folk recipes brought over from the old world is probably why Elder became an important ingredient in many white families medicinal remedies in the New World.

Elder berries were entered into the United States pharmacopeica from 1820 to 1831 when their juice was used for wine. Elder flowers were in the United States pharmacopeica from 1831
to 1905 when they were used as flower water and as a flavoring. Dr. John Gathercoal, who studied natural medicine at the University of Illinois in the 1940's stated "that a strained,  sterilized tea was used as a mild stimulant, calmative, and diaphoretic."

All parts of Elder has been utilized through the centuries and with prudence, skill, and understanding of the plant's actions it was used and caused no harm. In modern times,

Elder berries have been shown to have anti-viral qualities. There are extracts of Elder berries and/or flowers, and Elder berries combined with other herbs to help with the common cold and flu. These are available at herb stores everywhere. There are not any plant, bark or root product for sale that I have seen, maybe because this is the most potent part of the plant and if it were on the market, some people would not take it correctly and might possibly take too much.
[Table of Contents] [History] [Location] [Chemical Constituents] [Medicinal Qualities] [Contra-Indications]
[Known Herbal Formulas] [Dosages & Applications] [Personal Experiences] [Bibliography]
by Carol Bond