Materia Medica - Elderflower




Materia Medica

Latin Binomial: Sambuccus nigra, Sambuccus canadensis

Common Name(s): Elder, Elderflower, Black Elder, Canadian Elder

TCM Name: Jie Gu Mu (berries)

Ayurvedic Name: n/a

Family: Adoxaceae (formerly Caprifoliaceae)

Physical Description of the Plant: Elder is a large bush or  tree that grows from 10 to 30 feet tall. The compound leaves are composed of 5-11 serrated oblong leaflets with an extra leaflet on top. The leaves grow opposite each other along the hollow stem, which has a pithy core. The white flowers are white arranged in flat panicles, which produce branching clusters of glossy dark purple berries later in the season.

Habitat:  Native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, now found in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America.

Harvest and Collection: The flowers are picked when in full bloom, late spring to early summer. Only remove a few clusters from a plant, so it can produce berries later in the year.

Parts of the Plant Used: Flowers (later berries)


Energetics: Mildly sweet, bitter, slightly drying, warming and cooling

Chemical Constituents: 

  • Flavonoids

  • Free fatty acids

  • Minerals

  • Mucilage

  • Quercetin

  • Phenolic acid

  • Sterols

  • Sugars

  • Tannins

  • Triterpenes

  • Volatile oil



  • Anti-inflammatory

  • Antiviral

  • Astringent

  • Diaphoretic

  • Diuretic

  • Febrifuge

  • Immune Boosting

Eastern: clears heat, eliminates toxins, resolves phlegm


Orally, elderflower is used for sinusitis, cold, influenza, and bronchitis. It is also used as a mild laxative, as a diuretic, and as a diaphoretic to help promote sweating. Topically, elderflower preparations are used as a gargle and mouthwash for coughs, colds, laryngitis, flu, and as an eyewash for red, itchy eyes. For skin it is used as an astringent for swelling and inflammation.

Contraindications/Cautions: Elderflower is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA.

Drug Interactions: use with caution if taking diuretics.


Tincture: 2-4 mL (1:5 in 40%) fresh flower tincture, taken three times per day.

Infusion:  1-2 teaspoons dried flowers per cup boiling water, steeped for 10-15 minutes, taken three times per day.

Combinations: can be combined with other immune supportive herbs such as astragalus, echinacea, elderberry, reishi

Folklore: Elder's reputation to offer protection against evil spirits seems to be common everywhere, from Russia to Rumania and from Sicily to Scotland. A less common custom comes from Serbia, where Eldertwigs were believed to bestow good luck to a newly-wed couple if introduced at the wedding ceremony. This old pagan custom may have been the basis of a more recent belief common in Britain during Victorian times. According to this belief a man and woman would marry within a year if they were to drink together from an Ale that had been infused with Elderflowers. 

Elder has often been described as the medicine chest of the country people and many of its medicinal uses are still widely employed by modern herbalists. In 1644 a book dedicated entirely to the virtues of Elder was translated from Latin into English. Every single part of the plant was mentioned as medicinally useful for practically any ailment, "from toothache to the plague." An entire apothecary could be stocked from the many preparations that could be made from one, several, or all parts of the plant.: "a rob or syrup, tincture, mixture, oil, ointment, spirit, water, liniment, extract, salt, conserve, vinegar, oxymel, sugar, decoction, bath, cataplasm, and powder." However, in the old days the healing powers of a plant were not just considered due to their phytochemical activity, instead the more esoteric, subtle energy of the plant (as we might call it today) also played a great part in many magical healing rituals.

Flower Essence: Elder flower essence stimulates powers of recovery and renewal of the vital life energies that rejuvenate. When body and soul are revitalised, you can be imbued with the sense of wellbeing that boosts vitality and self-esteem. How you appear is a direct reflection of how you see yourself, what you believe about your appearance, and how you feel about your body. “Energy follows thought”.

Be the light and beautiful being that you truly are. Relax the desire for perfection and stimulate your natural powers of regeneration and renewal. Reveal your youthfulness and vitality.

Applications: Elderflower is anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal and expectorant, and helps in cases of colds, sinusitis and sinus allergies to reduce inflammation of sinus tissue and move congestion. It helps to reduce fevers by promoting sweating.


Elderflower Liqueur


  • 20 large elderflower heads

  • 1 litre (1 US quart) of vodka

  • Zest of 1 large lemon

  • 1 x 1 litre (1 US quart) sterilised Le Parfait jar, Kilner jar, Mason jar or similar

  • 100 g (½ cup) sugar

  • 100 ml (⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons) water

  • Sterilised bottles


  1. Pick your elderflowers on a sunny day just before noon for the best scent. Discard any with brown flowers.

  2. Give each flower head a good shake to get rid of any insects, although you will strain them out later.

  3. Snip the tiny flower heads off the thick stalks, leaving only the thin stalks attached to the flowers.

  4. Place in the sterilised jar, top with the lemon zest and pour the vodka in until it completely covers the lemon zest right to the limit of the jar. (This should prevent the flowers from turning brown but don't worry as an odd few will only result in a darker liqueur and it won't ruin the taste)

  5. Place in a cool, dark place for two to four weeks.

  6. Make a sugar syrup by gently heating the sugar with the water until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool before using.

  7. Strain the elderflower, lemon and vodka liquid through a muslin cloth into a bowl.

  8. Add half the sugar syrup and taste for sweetness before adding the remaining syrup if required. I use all of the syrup and I find it isn't overly sweet.

  9. Decant into clean sterilised bottles and leave for for two months in a cool dark place to mature. (If you really can't wait, it is okay for drinking now but it's worth waiting the two months)

 Scientific Research:

In 1990 Bulgarian scientists found elderflowers to have antiviral action against herpes simplex type I(the virus responsible for causing cold sores) and influenza types A and B. And recent clinical evidence from Israel also showed elderberry extract effectively inhibiting various strains of flu virus. If taken early enough in infection. elder can greatly improve recovery times from influenza.

A French study published in 1983 found that elderflower preparations were diuretic. The berries are known to be mildly laxative. An elderflower decoction makes a good anti-inflammatory mouthwash or gargle for swollen painful gums and sore throats.

Ulbricht, C, Basch, E, et al. (2014). An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the natural standard research collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2014 Mar;11(1):80-120 - “herbal preparations containing elder may result in less swelling of mucus membranes, better drainage, milder headache, and decreased nasal congestion.” 







Mimi Alberu