A wealth of folklore attaches to this plant, often described as a ‘complete medical chest’ because of its countless therapeutic and prophylactic qualities. Classes as ‘hot and dry’ by Galen, Elder was used for cold, damp conditions, such as catarrh or excessive mucous. In the 17th century, it was a favourite remedy for ‘clearing phlegm’, both as an expectorant for coughs and as a diuretic and violent purgative. Elderflower water was much praised in the 18th century for whitening the skin and removing freckles. 

Latin Botanical: Sambuccus nigra

Common Name(s): Elderflower, Elderberry

Family: Caprifoliaceae

Part(s) Used: Flowers or berries

Qualities: Berries/FlowersCool, dry (Holmes) slightly sweet and bitter (Ody). Bark is hot and bitter (Ody).


  • Volatile oil
  • Flavonoids – rutin, isoquercitrine and kampherol
  • Triterpenes, phenolic acids
  • Tannins
  • Mucilage
  • Vits A, B and C, also potassium

“The decoction of the root… cureth the biting of an adder” –Nicholas Culpeper, 1653


  • Diaphoretic
  • Peripheral Vasodilator
  • Anticatarrhal (URT & LRT)
  • Gentle circulation stimulant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiviral
  • Immunomodulating (berry) (↓ replication of several strains of influenza viruses A and B)


  • Colds, flu – specific for common cold
  • Fever
  • Chronic nasal catarrh
  • Sinusitis – acute and chronic
  • Chronic sinusitis with deafness (drains eustachian tubes)
  • Hay fever
  • Childhood infections
  • Croup, asthma, pleurisy, bronchitis
  • Topically for inflammation of the eyes, skin disorders, wounds and burns



FLOWERS: Anti-catarrhal and encourage sweating – ideal for feverish colds & influenza.

ALSO: Useful in treatment of hay fever, prophylactic to strengthen URT before spring. FLOWERS TOPICALLY: Anti-inflammatory – in skin creams and for treatment of chilblains

BERRIES:  Rich in vitamin C and A so useful in prevention and early treatment of common colds. Use in syrups.

Contraindications/Cautions: None Known


Liquid Extract

2 – 6ml 1:2 LE / day,

15 – 40ml 1:2 LE / week

Dried Herb Equivalent

6 – 12 g / day dried flower (infusion)


URTIs – Eyebright, Hydrastis, Echinacea

Diaphoresis – YEP tea

Ears – Hydrastis and ground ivy

Expectorant Syrup for coughs- Thyme



  • FLOWER INFUSION: Drink hot for feverish and catarrhal conditions of lungs or URT – including hay fever. YEP Tea.
  • FLOWER TINCTURE: Take for colds & flu or take early spring to help reduce and prevent hay fever Sx
  • FLOWER CREAM: Apply to chapped skin & sores on hand or onto chilblains
  • FLOWER EYEWASH: Use cold, strained infusion for inflamed or sore eyes
  • MOUTHWASH/GARGLE: Use the infusion for mouth ulcers, sore throats and tonsillitis 
  • BERRY SYRUP: Make from the decoction
  • BERRY TINCTURE: Can be used for rheumatic conditions (Ody). Combine with Willow or Bogbean.

References & Links to Articles:

Ody, Penelope (1998). The Herb Society’s Complete Medicinal Herbal. Milan: Dorling Kindersley
Hoffman, D. (1990). Holistic Herbal. London: Thorsons


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