Latin names: Sambucus nigra, S. racemosa formerly S. pubens (Red Elderberry), S. canadensis (Common Elderberry)

Family: Adoxaceae

Parts Used: Berries, Flower

Identification: Elder trees grow as a small tree or shrub up to 12 feet tall.  The leaves are pinnately divided and often have serrated edges.  They grow as opposite leaflets.  The flowers are cream colored and grow in flat umbel-shaped clusters.  There are several varieties of elders that can be used interchangeably. These include Sambucus nigra, S. canadensis, S. cerulea, and S. Mexicana. The red berried variety, Sambucus racemosa, has a higher content of cyanic compounds and should always be prepared with heat, strained of the seeds, and never eaten raw in large quantities. These red berries are mealier than the blue varieties. The flowers can be used safely in any preparation.

Energy: Flowers are cooling, Berries are warming

Flavour of flowers: sweet

Properties (flowers): antiviral, relaxing nervine, relaxing diaphoretic, diuretic, skin protectant, antioxidant rich, astringent, emollient, tonic, antispasmodic

Body Systems:  immune, upper respiratory, lower respiratory

Combinations: for sinus congestion- peppermint, yarrow, osha; for skin care– tansy, red clover, chickweed

Preparations (flowers): tea, infused oil, salve, cream, tincture, syrup

Flavour of berries: sweet, sour, spicy

Properties (berries): antiviral, immunomodulating, antioxidant rich, inflammatory modulating, tonic, laxative, febrifuge

Body Systems:  immune, upper respiratory, lower respiratory, digestive

Combinations: for colds, fevers, flu- peppermint, yarrow, echinacea, ginger; for long term immune support- garlic; for laxative support- aloe or nettle

Preparations (berries): food, syrup, tincture, tea, dye

Safety Considerations: Sambucus racemosa (Red Elder) produces a cyanide compound in berry, leaves, stems, barks & roots that is slightly toxic.  Not as present in young growth.  The flowers do not have this compound so are safe to use.  Avoid eating large amounts of the fresh berries (Sambucus nigra or canadensis (black elder), as the seeds contain small amounts of cyanogenic glycosides, which can cause nausea and diarrhea.  Freshly tinctured, cooked, or dried berries of Sambucus nigra or canadensis (black elder) are not toxic.

Harvest Time:

Sambucus racemosa (Red Elder) Flowers: Spring, mid- late May.  Harvest them gently using a hard-sided container or a basket lined with cloth; not a bag.  They should be processed as soon as possible and definitely within the first 24 hours of harvesting.  To dry the flowers lay them on a thin cotton cloth placed on drying screens.

Sambucus canadensis/nigra (Black/Common Elder) Flowers: Summer, late June.  Harvest them gently using a hard-sided container or a basket lined with cloth; not a bag.  They should be processed as soon as possible and definitely within the first 24 hours of harvesting.  To dry the flowers lay them on a thin cotton cloth placed on drying screens.

Sambucus canadensis/nigra (Black/Common Elder) Berries: Late Summer, early-mid September.  Take the berries of their stalks.  Use fresh within a few days or freeze.

Elder is one of the most useful and versatile medicinal plants we know of.  It is such an important herb for the winter months due to its anti-viral and immune-modulating properties.  If you want to stay healthy during the winter months, I highly recommend you have Elderberry syrup on hand to have daily as a preventative against getting sick as it builds the immune system to protect your cells from any incoming viruses. 

Indications for Flowers

-Flowers are high in quercetin/flavonoids so they boost the immune system.  The flowers and berries have been studies for their ability to inhibit viral infections from replicating in the body.

-Elderflowers help to break a fever due to its diaphoretic properties.   Herbalist, Mary Bove, advises to prepare a hot infusion of elderflowers, peppermint, yarrow, and catnip for lowering a fever.   Another combination used by Deb Soule to lower a fever is elderflowers, elderberries, and boneset.  Elderflowers allow the heat to leave the body bringing relief during the hot and restless phase of a fever.

-Deb Soule recommends elderflowers to child or adult with a blocked Eustachian tube along with a lymphatic massage to encourage lymphatic drainage.

-The flowers will also dry mucous secretions and soothe tender noses. Either to be drunk as a tea or for young children it can be sponged onto their bodies.

-Elderflowers can be combined with lemon balm to use with children who have eruptive diseases such as chicken pox and measles.

-Elderflower and sage is an effective gargle for a sore throat.

-The flowers have been known to relieve upper respiratory infections, including sinusitis, tonsillitis, laryngitis, and colds.  They have relaxing qualities that ease bronchial spasms and work well as a decongestant.  Combined with a pinch of chamomile and catmint aids relaxation in a restless and agitated child or adult, especially at the onset of an illness, and supports a restful sleep.

-Helps with stagnation especially with edema, blood stagnation or overall dispersion of fluids throughout the body.  Can drink eternally or make a poultice to place on a boil.

-Elderflower’s astringent and emollient properties are effective in soothing skin inflammation and healing cuts, wounds, and ulcers.

-Deb Soule recommends an infusion of elderflowers, combined with calendula and chamomile, to be used as a mouthwash for healing inflamed gums and mouth ulcers.  David Winston recommends using elderflowers, calendula, chamomile, and sage as a mouthwash for inhibiting inflammation caused by periodontal pathogens.

-The flowers will help with the allergy response and decrease excess mucous.

Indications for Berries

-Elderberries reduce fever and support the immune system against viral, bacterial, and fungal infections.  A study from Israel discovered that the constituents contained in elderberries ‘disarm’ a specific enzyme known as the neuraminidase enzyme within 24-48 hours, stopping the replication of the virus (Phillips, 2011, p382)

-Elderberries have the ability to shorten the duration of the flu.  Both human clinical trials and in vitro studies have shown an herbal preparation of elderberry extract to be effective against a number of influenza viruses.  In one placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 93.3 percent of those taking the elderberry preparation saw a significant improvement in symptoms within two days; by comparison, it took six days for 91.7 percent of those taking the placebo to see improvement.  In vitro studies have shown elderberry to be affective against many strain of the influenza virus as well as human pathogenic bacteria.

-The berries are flavonoid rich giving them anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits including decreasing oxidative stress.

-Elderberries are recommended for decreasing arthritic pain.

-The berries are even a treatment to shorten the herpes breakout.

-Elderberries are high in proanthocyanidins (PCOS), which are known to strengthen arteries, veins (including varicose veins and spider veins), and capillaries.  Deb Soule combines elderberries with lyceum berries (Lycium chinensis) to help stabilize small capillaries in the eyes and assist people with poor night vision and macular degeneration.

-Elderberries along with blueberries, black raspberries, and black currents contain different amounts of PCOS.  Foods high in PCOs are known to inhibit reactive oxygen species, preventing free radical damage and oxidative diseases such as cancer.

Preparation & Dosage

 Elderberries are a food-like herb and can be consumed in larger quantities, as you would any other food.

Infusion- A handful of the fresh flowers can be placed in a glass or stainless-steel pot.  Cover with water and slowly warm.  Turn off heat and infuse covered for 20 minutes.  Place 2 teaspoons of dried flowers into a pot and cover with 8 ounces of hot water.  Let infuse for 20-30 minutes.  Drink 2-3 cups per day.

Glycerite- (1:4) Fresh or dried flowers.  Use ¼-1 teaspoon, 3-5 times per day.

Tincture- 1:5 fresh or dried flowers, 30% alcohol, ¼-1 teaspoon, 4-6 times per day

1:4-fresh or dried berries, 30% alcohol, ¼-1 teaspoon, 4-8 times per day

Elderberry Syrup- 1 teaspoon (for children) to 1 tablespoon, once a day as a preventative and every hour when feeling ill

Infused Oil- Infuse fresh or dried elderflowers in an organic carrier oil of your choice for two weeks at 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Pour off oil through unbleached cheesecloth and store in a glass jar in a cool, dark cupboard.  This oil can be also be made into a salve or crème.


Elderberry Syrup

2 cups of fresh (or dried) elderberries

1-2 cups of water



1 tbsp astragalus root

1 tbsp ginger root

1 tbsp elderflowers

1 tsp  cinnamon chips

5 cloves

Gently heat fresh elderberries and water on the stove and mash them to help extract the juice. Simmer for 20 minutes. Strain well using a cheesecloth. Measure the remaining liquid. Add an equal amount of honey or to taste. The syrup will keep well in the fridge.

Elderberry & Chocolate Syrup  

created by Rosalee de la Foret

  • 1/2 cup of dried elderberries
  • 1/2 cup of dried rose hips
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder (look for organic, fair trade and 100% cocoa)
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • honey to taste

Simmer the elderberries and rosehips in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes. Strain well.

Whisk in the cocoa powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add honey to taste while the mixture is still

warm. Mix well. If a thicker consistency is desired, return the mixture to the stove and simmer on low until the sauce loses some of its water content and thickens. Use within a couple of days (or longer if you add lots of honey).

Elderberry Chutney

This recipe comes from Maude Grieve’s book, A Modern Herbal.

  • 2 lb. Elderberries
  • 1 large Onion
  • 1 pint vinegar
  • 1 teaspoonful salt
  • 1 teaspoonful ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 saltspoonful cayenne and mixed spices
  • 1 teaspoonful mustard seed

Stalk, weigh and wash the berries; put them into a pan and bruise with a wooden spoon; chop the onion and add with the rest of the ingredients and vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer till it becomes thick.

Stir well, being careful not to let it burn as it thickens. Put into jars and cover.

Elderflower Champagne

7-10 heads of elder blossoms

1 pound white sugar

2-3 lemons

2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

16 cups water

Dissolve sugar in four cups of boiling water. Slice lemons thinly. Put lemons, sugar water, vinegar, and the rest of the water into a plastic bucket or other non-metal container.  Lastly, add elder blossoms, heads down. Cover loosely and leave for 24 hours, then strain, bottle, and cork.  (The lemons can be used for a second batch of champagne.)  Leave for as long as possible before drinking.

Elderflower Cordial

25 Heads elderflower

Juice and zest of four lemons

1kg Sugar

60g Citric acid

1.5 Litre water

Bring the water to a boil and pour it over the elderflower and lemon zest. Cover this over and leave to infuse for 24 hours.

Strain this liquid and add the sugar, lemon juice and citric acid to it.  Bring the liquid to a simmer for five minutes.

Allow to cool and finally bottle up.  Store short term in bottles at room temperature or long term in the freezer. This is great in alcoholic or soft drinks and I also use it in various ways in cooking – especially desserts.

Cold and Flu Tea

This recipe goes back centuries. Drink as necessary at the first sign of a cold/flu and continuing throughout the sickness.

  • 1 part elder flower
  • 1 part yarrow leaf and flower
  • ½ part peppermint
  • ½ part rose hips

To make this tea place 1/2 cup of the mixture into a pint jar. Fill the jar with just boiled water. Let

it steep for 20-30 minutes. Strain, add honey if desired and drink warm.

Soothing Throat Blend

This tea blend is especially soothing to a dry and sore swollen throat.

  • 1 part elderflower
  • 1 part linden flower
  • 1 part licorice root
  • 1/2 part thyme or bee balm

To make this tea place 1/2 cup of the mixture into a pint jar. Fill the jar with just boiled water. Let

it steep for 20-30 minutes. Strain, add honey if desired and drink warm.


Soule, Deb . 2013. How to Move like A Gardener. Rockport, Maine. Under the Willow Press

De La Foret, Rosalee. 2017. alchemy of herbs. Carlsbad, California. Hay House Inc.   .

Bellebuono, Holly. 2012. The Authentic Herbal Healer. Bloomington, IN. Balboa Press.

The content on the blog Bear Roots Forest is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. I, the author of Bear Roots Forest, am not a medical professional and the information contained on this blog should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease or health illness. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented here. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods, supplements, essential oils, or lifestyle changes have not been evaluated by medical professional or Health Canada and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. I, the author of Bear Roots Forest, will not accept responsibility for the actions or consequential results of any action taken by any reader.

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