Greenhaus Natural Guide: Elderberry

What is an elderberry

The elder tree (sambucus nigra), which the elderberry is a part of, is an extremely diverse plant with a detailed history of use throughout Europe, dating back thousands of years. Our first known mention of the elder tree actually comes from the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, who lived between 460 BC and 370 BC and is commonly known as ‘the father of medicine’. He referred to elder as his ‘medicine chest’, due to the wide range of ailments it could be used to treat. The plant is also a regular feature of both English and Scandinavian folklore, with offerings regularly being made to the ‘elder mother’, who was said to have inhabited the tree.

The elder tree has wide ranging uses, from sustenance all the way through to medicine, with the word elder actually coming from the Anglo-Saxon word, aeld, meaning fire, as the stems were commonly used for kindling. The shrub grows freely throughout the European continent, from Scandinavia all the way to the Mediterranean, whilst it can also be found in regions of Asia. The tree is not native to The America’s, however it has been naturalised and so is regularly seen growing throughout North America. 

Why have people traditionally used elderberry?

As discussed earlier, the elder tree has an extremely diverse history of use, with every single part of the plant being utilised. Berries, flowers, roots and leaves are all significant. Nothing has to go to waste with elder. 

  • Medicinal Uses

Traditionally the elder plant was known as a panacea due to its ability to treat a whole host of ailments. The flowers have been historically brewed in a tea to; break fevers, soothe coughs and reduce inflammation, whilst the berries were traditionally used as a general tonic, as well as a diuretic and natural laxative. Even the bark and dew of the plant was used as an early remedy for skin complaints.

  • Culinary Uses

Primarily the elder plant is edible and so was used for general sustenance, before its medicinal properties were discovered. Elderflower is regularly used for making drinks, cordials and even alcoholic beverages, whilst the elder berry is often baked in pies and tarts, cooked in jams and preserves or even fermented into elderberry wine.

  • Other Uses

There is an extensive range of further uses for the elder tree, including; natural dyes being made from the stems, roots and leaves, elder pith is taken from the centre of the stems and used as tinder, whilst the wood is easily cut, making it perfect for musical instruments, pipes and fences amongst other things.

Why the recent broader interest in elderberries?

There has been a recent revival and a lot of increased interest in many traditional therapies, such as elderberries, as people look for natural alternatives in a move away from a reliance on modern pharmaceuticals, which often cover the cause of a disease or ailment but don’t actually solve the root problem.

Whilst the most common use for elderberry is still in the treatment of colds and flu’s, with human studies showing that elderberry supplements can reduce the effects and duration of colds and influenza, as scientific research on the topic develops, we have started to understand the mechanism of actions that determine why certain traditional herbs and plants have therapeutic properties. Much of the current interest in elderberries comes from its high levels of antioxidants, with the anthocyanin content of the berries giving them an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. Antioxidants are important in removing reactive molecules, which are associated with many diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cancer. The whole elder plant is an excellent source of antioxidants, with one of the anthocyanins found in the berries has 3.5 times the antioxidant power of vitamin E. With this in mind, there are a whole host of benefits, which are now thought to be attributed to elder, including;

  • Cancer inhibition
  • Heart health
  • Immune support
  • UV protection

Elderberry at Greenhaus

At Greenhaus our aim is always to bring you the best possible product on the market. As such, we have currently only chosen to stock an elderberry extract tincture, as we believe this is the best possible way to receive the active chemicals contained within the plant.

Nikki Hill is a fully qualified Naturopath, Clinical Nutritionist and Medical Herbalist, who  looks for natural solutions that help improve your overall health. The Organic Elderberry Tincture  comes in a 100ml bottle, containing a high concentration of 500mg of herbal extract/1ml of tincture. The tincture is the perfect way to keep your body and immune system fighting strong.