Sambucus nigra

Action: Diaphoretic, anticatarrhal, alterative, emollient.

Systems Affected: Circulation, lungs, skin.

Preparation and Dosage (thrice daily): Dried flowers, dose 2-5 grams by infusion.

The Elder is a shrub or tree growing up to 10 meters in height. Native to Europe, northern Africa and western Asia, it is introduced elsewhere. The tree has many uses, and a great wealth of folklore, romance and superstition has attached to the plant throughout history. The hollowed stems provide the pan-pipes and flutes used by the ancient Greeks and by modern English children; the fresh leaves, crushed, were used to repel insects and vermin; the leaves, roots and bark provide a range of blacks, greens, blues and violets for dyeing cloth; the flowers and berries are utilized in home-made pies, conserves, jams and drinks, including the well-known elderberry wine. The tree was associated with magic, and spirits were said to reside in it; in some parts of Europe old people still doff their caps at the plant and refuse to burn it.

From the time of Hippocrates the plant has been highly esteemed for its healing properties. Various parts of the plant are used medicinally but only the flowers should be considered safe for general use; without proper knowledge and preparation the bark, leaves and berries can be nauseating and even toxic.

The white flowers are picked in full bloom during mid-summer and dried in the shade (below 30°C) as rapidly as possible in order to prevent them from turning black. Correctly dried, they turn a brownish-yellow.

An infusion of the flowers is used for treating sinusitis, chronic nasal and bronchial catarrh, bronchitis, eruptive disorders such as measles and scarlet fever, rheumatism and gout.

Elder flowers are mostly used, however, in combination with Peppermint, forming a time-honoured infusion which is invaluable in treating colds, flu and fever.

Externally Elder flowers (and also the bark or leaves) are used as a soothing wash or ointment for mild burns, rashes and skin ailments. An infusion of the flowers is used as an eyewash for conjunctivitis, as a gargle for throat infections and as an inhalant for head colds.

The infusion also has its cosmetic uses, providing a mild astringent and toning lotion for the skin. Dabbed regularly on the face, neck and hands, and on rough patches at the elbows, knees and feet, it improves skin tone and function.


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