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Elder 

Sambucus nigra

Parts used medicinally: Flowers or Berries

Flowers: Elderflower is a traditional remedy for any upper respiratory tract congestion, as in the case of a cold or seasonal allergies.

 Berries: The berries arrive in later autumn and are packed with vitamin C and other anti-viral agents. The timing of the berries is also perfect as this is the time most people start coming down with colds and flu.

Chamomile

The elder tree has earned a fearsome reputation in folklore and those of us who disturb one had best take note. The elder mother, the spirit of this tree, is said to be the ruler of the faery kingdom and if she is disturbed, the little people will be dispatched to play havoc with our lives!  

 I've never met the elder mother, but if she does exist she has an amazing sense of timing. In spring the shrubby tree is covered with frothy pale cream flowers that most of us know well for making elderflower cordial (actually, my favourite use for them is to make elderflower champagne!). In addition to tasting delicious, these flowers are the key remedy for hayfever as it starts to cause problems with sufferers and can ease itchy eyes, nose and sneezing fits. Come the autumn and any flowers we have left on the tree turn to berries.  

 Luckily for us both flowers and berries taste wonderful and can easily be incorporated into foods and beverages to support our health. 

Camomile tea infusion

Did You Know?

  • The berries are dark, juicy and contain vitamin C. Herbalists use the berries to fend off the colds and sore throats that plague the colder months. 
  • In the early 1900s hospitals served elderberry jam because of the high vitamin and mineral content. 
  • There are over 30 different species of the most commonly used Sambucus nigra elder which is native to Europe, western Asia and northern Africa while Sambucus canadansis is native to North and Central America. 

Elder & Me

  • To make elderflower champagne simply dissolve 700g sugar into 6 litres of hot water in a large, clean container. Add the juice and zest of four lemons, 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, a pinch of yeast and about 15 flower heads in full bloom. Cover and leave to ferment for 6 days. Strain the liquid into sterilised strong glass bottles with champagne stoppers or equivalent (strong seals are essential as a lot of pressure can build up!). Leave for at least a week before serving chilled. The champagne should keep for several months. 
  • To make a great tonic to ward off colds and sore throats boil elderberries (either on their own or with blackberries) in water and sugar (or honey). Strain and bottle. Take a teaspoon every day. 

If you are pregnant/breastfeeding or on drug medication, be sure to consult with a professional before trying these remedies.