Vibrant Life, 11-02-05
The European or black elder (Sambucus nigra) is a deciduous tree belonging to the honeysuckle family. It grows to about 30 feet in height and is found throughout Europe and Central Asia. A smaller tree, the North American elder (Sambucus canadensis), flourishes across most of Canada and the northern United States. In America, the plant is more commonly known as elderberry.
The dried flowers or berries of either species of elder have a long history of use in herbal preparations. Ancient Egyptians utilized elder flowers for ointments and skin washes to improve the complexion and help relieve eczema. The flowers continue to be a common ingredient in ointments for burns, swellings, cuts, and scrapes.
Native Americans transformed the flowers, fruit, bark, and leaves into herbal folk remedies. A tea made from the inner bark served as a diuretic and laxative. Elderberry fruit has been used for the same purposes. Elder is reported to generate moderate antiinflammatory action. Because of its many uses, American Indians called the tree "the medicine chest of the common people."
In Belgium and France elder has been used as a diuretic. The British drank preparations of elder to cure the common cold. In the United States and Canada it is often mixed with peppermint leaves for the treatment of colds and fevers. The current use of elderberry to induce perspiration derives from traditional Greek medicine.
Relief for the Common Cold
Human studies on elder are very limited. Dr. Mumcuoglu, a researcher in Israel, developed a f lavonoid-rich extract of European elder. In a small clinical study in 1993, this extract was found to reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms. Today, teas made from elder flowers are recommended for the treatment of colds, especially in the initial stages when the sufferer is experiencing a scratchy throat and general malaise.
The flowering tops of the elder bush are most commonly used in herbal preparations. The tiny white and yellow flowers, noted for their faint but distinctive odor, usually appear in June or July. Most of the commercial crop originates from Eastern Europe and the United Kingdom.
The German Commission E reports that the flowers of the European elder plant provide effective relief for colds and fevers, as well as catarrh. They may also improve bronchial secretions in the treatment of colds. In addition, laboratory studies confirm the antiinflammatory activity and diuretic action of elder flowers. The therapeutic activity of the flowers of the elder shrub is thought to be the result of the significant levels of flavonoids, triterpenes, and biologically active phenolic compounds they possess.
To prepare a medicinal tea, two to three teaspoons of dried elder flowers are simmered in one-half cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Two to three cups of this tea may be safely consumed in a day. Initially the flowers have a sweet taste, followed by an acrid aftertaste. As an alternative to using the tea, six capsules of elder flowers per day may be consumed for the treatment of the cold. The herb tea also makes a soothing gargle and eyewash.
The elder tree produces small purple-black berries up to !4 inch in diameter. They ripen around August or September and are rich in the antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins. Elderberries are very juicy and are edible when cooked. They can be used like blueberries in pies, muffins, and pancakes. They also make good jam and jelly. The berries are rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, and flavonoids.
No side effects have been reported. The leaves and unripe berries may be somewhat poisonous and may cause nausea and vomiting. However, the dried flowers or ripe cooked berries may be safely employed, but excessive or prolonged use may cause hypokalemia because of their diuretic effect.
In conclusion, elder flowers are a safe and effective treatment for colds and flu, sore throats, and fevers. They also possess useful diuretic properties.