The Old Lady of the Woods
Common Name: Elder
Latin: Sambucus nigra
Parts used: Most commonly flowers and berries
The humble Elder tree has been described as a medicine chest for treating common ailments. It has a rich and mysterious history dating back thousands of years. Much has been written on this trees medicinal qualities as well as its connection with magic.
Elder trees were regarded as protectors against evil and were encouraged to grow near dwellings. The wood was not brought into the house however and there are very strong beliefs that one should not cut down the tree as it would bring bad luck. Up until recently farmers dared not disturb the Elder. It demands respect; the same respect you would show your own grandmother
The trees are widely grown in the UK and are commonly found in woods, hedge rows, gardens and waste grounds. They are perhaps most noticed when in bloom as the abundance of tiny white flowers can be clearly seen. The flowering tops are harvested in late spring (usually June for us in Scotland!) and the berries in late autumn (before the birds have gobbled them up!).
There are many ways the preparations of Elder can help, here are a few:
- Diaphoretic – promotes sweating
Elderflowers have a warm and dry nature so are especially helpful to us in our cold and damp climate. A hot infusion (tea) – either on its own or in combination with Yarrow, Peppermint and Chamomile – makes an excellent remedy for the onset of upper respiratory infections such as colds and flu. It enhances an immune response, gently stimulating sweating and regulating temperature control, helping us to pass infections more effectively and with less severe symptoms.
Its drying quality helps to reduce bronchial and upper respiratory catarrh in the mucus membranes of nasal passages. Taken regularly, often in combination with other herbs, it has been shown to be beneficial for those suffering from hay fever. By encouraging the repair of the membrane potential irritants are unable to get through and reactions such as sneezing and irritations can be prevented. It is recommended to prepare by taking herbs before the hay fever session has started to allow this healing to happen.
- High in vitamins A & C
Elderberries have been a popular traditional remedy for colds which has now been backed up with scientific research. It was shown that elderberries taken as a medicine produced a 57% improvement for patients suffering from symptoms such as muscle aches, fevers and coughing. Another trial in 1995 showed that Elderberries halved the recovery time of cold and flu sufferers. Whilst 90% of those taking berries recovered in 2-3 days, 90% of the placebo took 6 days. A recent publishing quoted that Elderberries were effective against nine different types of virus and bacteria. Pretty impressive! Large doses have been known to give mild diarrhoea so listen to your tum!
Elderberry preparations should be easily available from your local herb shop or health food store. For more info on Elder or if you have a question on dosages feel free to get in touch with me or another Herbalist.