Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) - Plant Profile
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Elderberry is native to Europe, and can also be found in many other parts of the world, from North America to Asia. The Elderberry tree is a shrubby one that can grow to be quite large. Elderflowers tend to bloom around June and their berries begin to ripen in October.
The only parts we use in medicine making are the Flower and Berries, as the tree itself (including the berries) is toxic. This is caused by cyanogenic glycosides found in the seed, stem, root and leaf. However, drying and heat destroy this glycoside, making it safe when using the berry for your medicine.
One of the easiest ways to identify an Elder tree is by looking at its leaves, which have serrated edges and opposite leaf structure. The key is to rub or crush the leaf, which gives off a very distinctive odor - some, including myself, say the smell reminds them of peanut butter!
Now, lets talk about its medicine!
Elderberries are popular due to their direct effect on viruses in the body, specifically for fighting the flu, AKA the Human Influenza Virus. Viruses have no genetic material of their own, so when they enter the body, they work by hijacking ours and begin the mutation process spreading throughout the body.
So how do we use Elderberries to stop this virus mutation? I'm glad you asked!
First, it's important to know that the bright pigments of the berries are due to a compound called Anthocyanin.
This compound works by sealing the outer layer of our cells called the cell membrane. This blocks the virus' entry point, and stops it from using our genetic material to replicate itself, leaving it outside the cell, vulnerable for our immune system to attack. And while all of this is happening, the elderberries are strengthening our immune system and telling it to go fight these viruses. Pretty awesome, right?
While the Elder tree's flowers don't contain this compound, they do contain compounds called Quercetin and Rutin. These compounds stabilize the mast cell membrane, helping to block histamine release which makes Elder flowers great for addressing allergies and hay fever. Being high in tannins, the flowers are also used for improving tissue structure and modulating inflammation in the body by targeting tissue damage.
A moderate diuretic, the flowers help to clear out excess fluid build up which helps cases of the flu, edema and swelling.
To make a tea of Elderflower, simply add 1-3 tsp per 8 oz water. The berries can be made either into a tea or delicious syrup. Both berry and flower can be tinctured as well.
Elderberry and elder flower have a somewhat neutral yet drying affect on Vata, while working best on both Pitta and Kapha dosha.
Pitta: Due to its cooling and inflammation reducing effect, it will help reduce heat and irritation that is seeing when there is a Pitta imbalance.
Kapha: When Kapha becomes aggravated there tends to be lots of fluid retention, stagnation and an excess of mucus in the body. Elder helps to open the channels of elimination to clear these fluids while breaking down and clearing out excess mucus that has settled in the lungs.