Sambucus nigra L.

Botanical family: Caprifoliaceae
Parts used: Flower
Main active ingredients: Flavonoids, triterpenes, volatile oils
Actions: Anticatarrhal, anti-inflammatory, antiviral
Good for: Colds, flu, ear, nose and throat problems
Available forms: Tincture, tea, extract


This large shrubby tree with feather-like leaves bears tiny scented cream flowers in flat bunches in early summer. It is native to Europe and thrives in woods and hedges and on wasteland. Its purple berries ripen in late autumn. The name elder comes from the Anglo Saxon word ‘aeld’ meaning fire as its hollowed stems were once used to get fires going.


Elder has been used medicinally since the days of ancient Rome when Hippocrates recommended it to encourage vomiting and purging. And many medieval herbals cite it as ‘nature’s cure-all’. Elder roots were used as a diuretic while the leaves were used to make ointments for treating bruises, sprains and wounds, as well as a tea, which became a traditional cure for coughs, colds and inflammation of the mucous membranes.

A tea made from the flowers was also considered a spring tonic good for purifying the blood. These days the flowers rather than the root are used in herbal medicine

Current uses

For colds and flu

Elderflower has antiviral and immune- boosting properties and can be made into an infusion for treating colds, flu and feverish symptoms. It is often combined with yarrow.

For hay fever

Elderflower is thought to strengthen the mucus membranes of the respiratory tract, increasing resistance to allergens. Drinking elderflower tea in early spring can help reduce symptoms of hay fever later in the year.

For catarrh

Elderflower is often used to treat chronic catarrh problems affecting the sinus and middle ear.

Other uses

Elderflower tea is often recommended for soothing aches and pains, while a cold elderflower infusion can be used as a wash for sore and inflamed eyes.

How to take it

  • 2-4g of the dried extract can be taken as an infusion three times a day.
  • 2-4 ml of tincture can be taken three times a day.

Watch point

  • Elderflowers are best avoided if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Parts of the plant, apart from the flowers, are thought to be poisonous and should not be ingested. The root is no longer used in herbal medicine.
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