What are the Uses of Elderberry?
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a very common plant across Europe.
Elderberries can be found in forests, gardens, fields and on river banks. Elderberries have been used in folk medicine for centuries.
Hippocrates, in the 4th century BC, wrote about the properties of elderberry. The Roman military physician Dioskurides recommended decoction of its leaves for hard-to-heal wounds and snakebites. Pliny the Elder wrote about elderberry in his work "Naturalis historia", Saint Hildegard in the 12th century recommended elderberry decoction for breastfeeding mothers to increase milk secretion.🍼
It is a variable species - there are several subspecies, but their classification is not established. Numerous ornamental varieties have been bred, differing mainly in colour and leaf shape. Elderberry was used in Egypt as a cure for burns, the Indians used it during the cold, while in many regions it was used not only as a medicinal plant, cosmetic but also as a talisman or part of many rituals.
In medicine, elderberry flowers 🌸, fruits 🥭, leaves 🍂, seeds 🌱, bark and even roots are used, of which the flowers and fruits are the most important.
Elderberry flowers and fruits contain flavonoids, mainly: bioflavonoid, quercetin derivatives and kaempferol. We can also find in them phenolic and organic acids - coffee, ferulic, chlorogenic, essential oils, mucilage and a small number of tannins, triterpenes, sterols, and mineral salts (potassium, calcium, iron, sodium, aluminium). In elderberry fruits there are anthocyanin glycosides, tannins, organic acids - malic, chlorogenic, and B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, biotin), provitamin A, vitamin C, sugars, and pectin.
Properties of elderberry.
Elder flowers can be dried and used in the form of tea ☕ - then they have a cleansing effect, detoxifying, acting as a diaphoretic and are anti-inflammatory. Elder fruits 🥭 can strengthen immunity (thanks to the high content of vitamin C and other antioxidants including polyphenols), also reduce inflammation, especially in the throat and larynx. Elderberries can have antibacterial, antiviral, even antifungal and anti-yeast effects. They can contribute to the regulation of the body's lipid metabolism. Because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, elderberry can be beneficial for joint inflammation. Elderberry syrup is known as a remedy for joint and muscle pain 💪.
For colds and immunity boosting.
An infusion of the flowers 🌸 or the juice of the fruit 🥭 is a versatile cold remedy. Since it has a strong sudorific effect, it quickly lowers the elevated body temperature. It has expectorant properties, so it facilitates the clearing of bronchial secretions. It strengthens the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and seals blood vessels, which limits the spread of pathogenic microorganisms. Its mild analgesic effect helps cope with headaches and sore throats often associated with colds, while its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties make it easier to fight off infections. Elderflower infusions can be used as gargles for tonsillitis and inflammation of the mouth and throat.
To seal the blood vessels.
Bioflavonoid is a flavonoid compound found in the flowers 🌸 of elderberries. It seals blood vessels 🩸, makes them more flexible and reduces permeability of vessels. It is helpful in gum bleeding.
Black elderberry regulates digestion and kidney function.
Both the flowers and fruits contain compounds with beneficial effects on the digestive and urinary systems. First of all, they have a mild laxative effect and regulate digestion, relieve flatulence, constipation and heartburn. They have a diuretic effect, is used for kidney problems, so they are recommended for hypertension, enema, water retention in the body. Elderberry has antibacterial properties, so it can be used to treat urinary tract infections. Elderberry juice is also a good source of vitamin C, which helps fight infection.
Black elderberry has properties of cleansing toxins.
Thanks to its sudorific, diuretic and laxative properties, elderberry removes harmful products from metabolism and exogenous toxins (of external origin). It is also helpful in weight loss treatments.
It has anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it suitable for making poultices for eye diseases, including conjunctivitis. This raw material is also recommended for skin with eczema and hard-to-heal wounds. For these problems, warm compresses should be made.
- Many studies confirm the immunomodulatory and antioxidant effects of elderberry, and it is the subject of experiments on its effects on cancer cells. It has a high anti-cancer potential and may especially be a good component of a cancer prevention diet.
- They have an analgesic effect and help relieve the pain of sciatica and all types of neuralgia.
- Studies conducted have shown that elderberry flower extract 🌸 significantly increases glucose uptake, oxidation, and gluconeogenesis. Furthermore, studies in animal models have shown that elderberry can increase insulin secretion.
- Elderberry juice can lower both total cholesterol and its LDL ("bad") cholesterol fraction, thereby lowering the risk of heart disease. ❤
- Thanks to their antioxidant properties, elderberry fruits 🥭 and flowers 🌸 are a potentially valuable tool in the prevention of diseases, such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
- Elderberry juice is used in the food industry as a natural colouring agent and to flavour food products. Infusions of dried or fresh elderberry leaves 🍂 in the form of sprays are used to control plant pests such as aphids and cabbage leafhoppers.
Elderberry in cosmetics.
- The anti-inflammatory properties of elderberry infusions are perfect for irritated and impure skin, for example when dealing with acne, blemishes or blackheads. You can use them for cleansing steams or soothing compresses. It is good after washing the face to wipe it, as a cosmetic tonic, for example, summer infusion of flowers.
- As an anti-wrinkle, skin softening and whitening agent.
- A high content of vitamin C, which strengthens connective tissue and supports the production of collagen fibres, is very useful in the fight against cellulite. Additional support is provided by anti-inflammatory flavonoids, which seal capillaries and increase the elasticity of their walls. To get rid of uneven skin, it is best to use baths with the addition of a decoction of the fruit, drink infusions of flowers, but above all regularly massage the body with elderberry oil.
💡 However, if the expedition in search of elderberry and its raw materials fails, we can always use the pharmacy or herbal supplies: flower teas, syrups, and other products containing elderberry extracts, both for adults and children.
How and when we harvest elderberries.
To benefit from the properties of elderberry, you must first be able to recognize it in nature. Fortunately, it is quite a distinctive plant. It is a shrub up to 4 meters high, characterized by small, yellow-white flowers. Between May and July, when the inflorescences are already sufficiently developed, you can harvest it. This should be done early in the morning in sunny weather ☀ and before the flowers start dropping. Cut the whole umbels (about 80% of the flowers 🌸 in the umbels should be developed), which should be later placed in a shady, well-ventilated place in a not too high temperature, so that they don't turn yellow, and dry them in the temperature of about 45ºC. When harvesting the flowers 🌸, however, remember to leave some on the bush in order to be able to use the fruit. Properly dried elder blossoms have a yellowish-white colour, and the brown parts should be discarded.
Elderberries are harvested when they are ripe, around August-September. They are purple-black, very small and juicy. (They should not be eaten raw!). The fruits are first dried at 30ºC and then dried at 60ºC. Properly dried elderberries have a sour taste and no smell.
Elderberry bark, which is removed from 2-3 year old trees in autumn, is also used in medicine. The bark should be dried in airy and shady places or at temperatures up to 100ºC.
However, it is important to note that the leaves, unripe fruits 🥭 and seeds 🌱 of elderberries contain a cyanogenic glycoside. Compounds belonging to the cyanogenic glycosides are converted in the human body to hydrogen cyanide, which blocks tissue enzymes and inhibits the transport of oxygen from the blood to the tissues. Hydrogen cyanide, or prussic acid, is toxic in large doses. In the case of elderberry raw materials, you have nothing to fear; the content of cyanogenic glycosides is low, and they are inactivated during drying and additional thermal processing. Symptoms of poisoning include sudden weakness, loss of strength, vomiting, diarrhoea, respiratory distress, chest pains. After ingestion, it is necessary to immediately induce vomiting if it does not occur naturally and to go to the emergency room of a hospital to have the stomach flushed.
Elderberry has a laxative effect, be cautious when administering to the elderly, children and pregnant women. 🤰
Some of the fresh raw material can be used, for example, in the form of pancakes or syrup, recommended to strengthen the body. It is also worth mentioning that the plant is used in the kitchen as an ingredient of jellies, puddings, cakes or even liqueurs. It is also used to make homemade preserves such as jams, pickles, preserves, juices, jam, etc.
🌸 Flowers - cut whole umbels, which after collection should be left for several hours in a dark, dry, and well-ventilated place. This will help get rid of insects, which due to the characteristic smell are abundant on elder flowers.
If you do not want to wait, you can rinse the umbels with cold water. Flowers are harvested on dry days, choosing those that are good, not shrivelled. Dry them in a shady, airy place. After drying, they should have a yellow colour and unchanged fragrance. Such dried flowers can be stored for two years.
Recipe for infusion - elderflower tea ☕.
To prepare the decoction, pour a tablespoon of dried flowers 🌸 in a glass of boiling water and brew under a lid for 10 minutes, you can sweeten it with sugar or honey, you can also bring it to a boil and boil on low heat for about 5 minutes. Set aside for 15 minutes then strain. This decoction ☕ should be drunk 2-3 times a day after 1/3 glass as an antipyretic, diuretic and diaphoretic or use as compresses. This tea is very refreshing in the summer. You can drink it like ordinary tea ☕, but it also has many medicinal properties. In addition, it helps remove mucus from the respiratory tract in wet cough and sinusitis. Due to the presence of mucilage, it also provides relief from dry cough, relieves headaches and boosts the body's immunity, which helps you recover when you are sick.
Syrup - elderberry flower juice.
Requires approximately 40 elderflowers, 1.5 litre s of water, 1 kg of sugar, one lemon 🍋. Put the elderflowers 🌸, stripped of their bitter stems, in a jar. Boil the water, sugar, and sliced lemon, then remove the lemon 🍋, pour the syrup over the flowers 🌸, and seal the jar. Set aside with the bottom up for at least two days. After that time, strain through gauze, then pour the syrup into a pot. Heat to a very high temperature, not bringing to a boil and pour again into the jar. Set aside to cool. The syrup is now corked - stored this way, it has an expiry date until the next harvest. Once opened, it can be stored for a month in the fridge. Its flavour is reminiscent of mint, so it will be perfect as a refreshing drink during the summer heat. It works well as a topping for pancakes.
Elderflowers in a pancakes.
Prepare pancake batter. Use as many elderflower stems as you would like to have pancakes. Once everything is ready, holding the stem, dip the flower 🌸 thoroughly into the batter and place on the pan. When the pancake is properly fried on one side, snip off the flower stalk with scissors and flip to the other side. Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar or drenched in any syrup.
Elderflower Vinegar Recipe.
Elder flowers can also be used to make vinegar, which is widely used in home medicine and care. Pour apple cider vinegar onto fresh flowers in the proportion of one glass of vinegar per one umbel of the flower 🌸. Stir and leave for a few days in a warm place.
Pour water over elderberries and boil until they release juice. Then mash them to a pulp and squeeze through gauze. Next, boil the juice with a small amount of honey and pour into dark bottles or jars. Drink the juice 2-3 times a day, a glass at a time, diluted with water or tea. It is used to support the treatment of colds, neuralgia, and digestive disorders.
Antiviral elderberry decoction.
Pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of fruit into 1 cup of cold water. Heat under the lid until boiling, then boil for 5 minutes. Set aside for 20 minutes and strain.
Drink 1/3 cup 2-4 times a day between meals.
Use 1 kg of fruit, about 400 g of sugar, a little water and lemon juice - cook until the right consistency is obtained. If you don't like seeds, you can rub through a sieve after a brief boil without sugar, and then the cook with the sugar.
1.5 l of syrup, juice, 1 l of spirit. After straining the syrup (or a portion of boiled fruit), add a litre of spirit to it. Set the mixture aside for a month in a dark, warm place, during this time vigorously shake it every three days and after this time, strain (for example, through a coffee filter). You can add water, possibly sugar, put it aside for about a week and then filter again. The liqueur should stand for another month in a dark and cool place to get a perfect aroma. Pour the liqueur into prepared bottles and leave for several months. It is recommended for treating colds, neuralgia and cardiovascular diseases. Elderberries can also be used to make wine, for which you need wine yeast and a little bit of citric acid.
You can buy products containing elderberry here⬇
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- Gray AAM, Abdel-Wahab Y YH, Flatt PPR. The traditional plant treatment, Sambucus nigra (elder), exhibits insulin-like and insulin-releasing actions in vitro. J Nutr, 2000.
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- Waszkiewicz-Robak B. et al: Health-promoting properties of elderberry. Probl Hig Epidemiol. 2018.
- Zielińska-Pisklak, Monika & Szeleszczuk, Łukasz & Młodzianka, Anna. (2013). Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) home remedy not only for flu and cold. Medicine in Poland.