Elder is one of the most accessible plants in herbalism. Hailed as “The medicine chest of the country people” by physicians and botanists, elder flower and its berries are as prevalent in remedies today as they were in ancient times. Traditionally, herbalists use the berries to relieve symptoms of colds and flus, and our herbalists have tapped into these benefits to make our Organic Echinacea Plus® Elderberry tea.
There are nine species of temperate and subtropical shrubs and small trees which commonly go by the name elder or elderberry. We use Sambucus nigra, a species native to Europe, Northern Africa and Western and Central Asia. The plant takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon word æld, meaning “fire,” since blowing through the hollow stems of elder’s young branches helped to fan flames. Elder has a long history of traditional use among Native Americans and European herbalists, lending itself to much folklore. In Old World tradition, elder served as a great symbol of protection; people planted it around houses or hung it above windows to keep witches at bay and to watch over the plants in the garden.
Healers have used elder in many different ways throughout history. The glossy, dark purple berries have an affinity for the upper respiratory tract, and are often combined with echinacea to help fight off infections associated with that area of the body, such as coughs, sore throat and mucus buildup. Aside from its many medicinal powers, elder has also found its way into the kitchen, used for centuries for making preserves, wines, winter cordials and adding flavor and color to other concoctions. In fact, ripe elderberries were once known as “Englishman’s grape” and have been used for centuries to make the famous elderberry wine.
The flowers of the elder tree have unique healing benefits as well. One of the most well-known cooling diuretics, elderflower promotes sweating and helps to relieve fevers associated with colds and flus. Elderflower has even made it into cocktails, where bartenders feature its elegant and floral liqueur as the latest in trendy bar ingredients. Needless to say, elderberry’s deliciously tart and sweet flavor makes it easy to forget you’re taking herbal medicine.
Elderberry and elderflower are among Europe’s most esteemed remedies during the colder months, and their popularity has only increased over the centuries. In recent years, natural health products made from extracts, juices and syrups of European elder have popped up on grocery and pharmacy shelves across North America and can be found all year long.
From relieving the symptoms of cold and flu all year round, to making some of the most delicious wines, jams, jellies and pies, it’s no wonder elder is such a beloved plant ally. Elder is known as “The medicine chest of the country people,” for good reason. When it comes to seasonal wellness, this tasty, tried-and-true herbal remedy has helped people sidestep the pitfalls of winter for centuries. Symbolically and literally, an herb of protection is an herbal ally worth having.