Sambucus nigra, Caprifoliaceae

Elder Sambucus nigra or black elder, as it is commonly referred to, is a member of the Caprifoliaceae family and is a common tree throughout Europe and North America. In northeastern America it is common to use Sambuca canadensis. The flowers are whitish-yellow and are strongly-scented. The flowers have five main branches which support the large, flat, erect, and densely blossomed cymes. The fruits are a purplish-black, berry-like drupe with a blood-red juice.[1] The elder tree has a tremendous historical and folkloric background and is reputed to have mystical properties that ward off evil spirits and disease. Ancient Stone Age excavations have revealed traces of elderberry. Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, wrote of its purgative properties. Supposedly, the wood of Christ’s cross came from an elder tree and Judas was said to have hung himself from an elder tree. The gypsies have always revered elder above all other healing herbs. In traditional medicine, the elder tree was a veritable medicine chest. The bark, flowers, berries, and leaves were used for numerous ailments. [5] The bark was used as a purgative, diuretic, and emetic. The leaves were used externally for their emollient and vulnerary properties, used for treating bruises, sprains and wounds, and were taken internally as a purgative, diuretic, diaphoretic, and expectorant.[5]

The berries were valued for their diaphoretic, expectorant, anti-inflammatory properties, mainly used in treating cold & flu symptoms such as fevers, coughs, head colds, laryngitis, hayfever, sinusitis and shortness of breath.[5] The berries have been popularly prepared as elderberry wine and elderberry jam. The flowers are used today as a flavoring agent in Sambuca liqueur, and have also been used for their diuretic, diaphoretic, expectorant properties, and are used similarly to the berries.[5] The berries, unlike the flowers, have also been used traditionally for treating rheumatism, neuralgia, and sciatic pain.[4] The berries are known to produce sweating and to help bring down fevers, and are also thought to have some anti-viral properties, making them useful for colds and influenza.[2][3] Black elder contains flavonoids (including rutin, isoquercitrin, quercitrin, hyperoside, nicotoflorin, astragalin, and kaempherol), sambunigrin, a hydrocyanic glycoside, as well as anthocyanins, tannins, chlorogenic acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and traces of an essential oil.[4][5] Further investigation into the pharmacological activities of elderberry extract are warranted. No known toxicity or side effects are known to exist for elderberries. It is not advised to consume elderberry extract during pregnancy or lactation.

[1] Sambucus nigra at USDA PLANTS Database.

[2] Zakay-Rones, Zichria; Noemi Varsano, Moshe Zlotnik, Orly Manor, Liora Regev, Miriam Schlesinger, Madeleine Mumcuoglu (1995). “Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virus in Vitro and Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama” (PDF). J Altern Complement Med 1 (4): 361–9.

[3] Z Zakay-Rones, E Thom, T Wollan and J Wadstein. “Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections”, Journal of International Medical Research (pdf).

[4] Campa, C. et al. (2000): Analysis of cyanogenic glycosides by micellar capillary electrophoresis. In: J. Chromatogr. B. Biomed. Sci. Appl. 739:95–100.

[5] Hoffmann, David, Medical Herbalism (2003) Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT, p. 580. ISBN 0-89281-749-6.

Products that contain Elder

Elderberry Syrup