Elderberry: Sambucus nigra, also known as the European Elder
As winter goes through her last weeks we are still facing concerns over the flu here in the NE. Colds and flu can sneak into our households bringing runny noses and coughs.
A small tree or shrub, the elderberry, has been relieving these complaints for centuries. Sambucol, Sambucus, two popular names for commercial products fly off the shelves of health or natural supplement departments at this time of year. I have heard many stories of folks getting through a winter with no or few respiratory ailments hitting their households when combining elderberry with good winter health practices. If a cold should hit, elderberry syrup supplements are often the herb of choice. Research studies are being conducted by notable University’s Complementary and Alternative Medical Departments including the NIH. The German Commission E recommends elderberry and elderflower preparations for colds and flu even bronchitis.
Elder has a rich history. One of its name origins is Aeld, which meant fire. The pith in young branches is soft and easily pushes out. A hollow tube remains which was used to stoke the kitchen fires, hence the common name of pipe tree. In ancient times pipes were made of elder wood and fashioned into instruments and of course pea shooters.
Elder, referenced by Shakespeare and Pliny, holds a place of connection whether superstition, hedgerows, or poetry capturing us with its many uses and meanings.
Where Found: common to Europe and Northern Africa; now found all over the United States; in fact, it was thought this was the tree Judas chose to hang from. A fungus occurs on the elder, Hirroneola auricular Judaea, so named from the above historical story or myth.
Elder is considered a small tree about 10-12’ high or a shrub. It is commonly found along wood edges, along with wood stands in fields, along banks and fences. This plant is also nitrogen loving and in the Honeysuckle family. It flowers from May- June. Fruit ripens in August. Virginia Tech has a great ID page and plant facts.
Elderberry syrup and lozenges are part of my home medicine chest. I usually use elderberry during the winter or if I am traveling to keep my immune system strong. There are many products that are available for children too. In view of the recent flu outbreaks I thought it important to get info out about this wonderful plant. Nature has so many remedies for us. As my podcast guest, Doug Tallamy, reminds us: our personal land can play a huge part in supporting wildlife. And Elderberry is a host plant for a variety of butterflies and moths.
Enjoy your day. Judith
Description: Healthy soils support healthy plants, create nutrient-dense foods, help create better health. It all begins with the soil. My guest this week, Nigel Palmer, is a soil consultant and teaches sustainable and regenerative soil practices with The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition, TIOSN, here in North CT. What’s good for soil biology, the “digestive system” of soil, is actually important for us. Join us for an informative discussion on growing nutritious foods from the ground up.
About My Guest: Nigel Palmer is a Bionutrient Food and Soil Consultant practicing sustainable, regenerative mineralization programs. He develops plant and soil improvement products by fermenting local plants, extracting minerals, and capturing then cultivating indigenous microorganisms. He uses the refractive index of plant saps and crops as a way of monitoring long and short-term plant health trends and the efficacy of the products developed.
Nigel is the Outside Consultant for The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition or TIOSN. He teaches sustainable regenerative gardening techniques, the keeping of bees, and discusses monthly, the night sky and many subtle nuances of the world out of doors.
Transcript: Nigel Palmer
I’ve had a little bit of anise hyssop in my garden but none recently. I like the fact that deer ignore it. Tall beautiful flowers are attractive to a garden’s background. This lovely medicinal and edible plant is the International Herb for this year. If you are interested in herbs, I highly recommend the International Herb Symposium held in MA in June this year. Herb talks on a variety of issues, plants, growing, health are worthwhile.
Plant name: Anise Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, herbaceous perennial of the mint family, not to be confused with hyssop, anise or star anise; Also known as giant hyssop; though they look alike they have different origins.
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers, emit a soft licorice scent and flavor. They are edible and can be put into bread, muffins, or as a garnish on salads, used in hot or cold teas.
Where Found: native to NW US, often creates a beautiful blanket of violet across prairies;
Garden tips: blooms early summer to the first frost. Grows to about 2-4 feet in height and self-sows. You can grow from seeds too. This plant is very hardy and can be found in zones 4-9, and drought tolerant. It’s a favorite of pollinator insects especially honeybees, and some birds. Not only does anise hyssop provide food for pollinators but it also relies on pollinators for fertilization so it can produce seeds in the fall. Likes well-drained to dry soils. Deers seem to avoid this plant but rabbits love it. Doesn’t spread like mint and will grow into a bushier like shape.
Benefits: “Native Americans found many uses for this plant. They included it in their medicine bundles and burned it as incense for protection. Its uplifting fragrance was also used to treat depression. Anise Hyssop made into a poultice can be used to treat burns and in wound healing. As a wash for poison ivy, it helped to reduce itching. Internally it was used to treat fevers and diarrhea. It is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and very useful as an infusion for relieving congestion. As a medicinal herb, it has soothing, expectorant and cough suppressant properties. A tea made from the leaves and flowers is sedating and relieves pain from coughing with chest colds. Used in combination with licorice it is especially effective for lung conditions such as bronchitis and respiratory tract infections.” (from Susan Weeds herbalzine.)
From what I researched, Anise hyssop has many health benefits. What I found interesting is that many traditional herbals, (and I have many) do not include anise hyssop but rather its European counterpart, Hyssop. They share some traits but anise hyssop may be more beneficial.
- used in cold remedies, used to prevent summer colds;
- may strengthen a weak heart
- anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory
- can be made into a salve for wound healing
- sip tea with meals to prevent gas/bloating
- You can bathe in it to treat sunburns and /or treat fungal infections like athlete’s foot.
- As an essential oil, it is antiviral and may help with Herpes Simplex I and II
Consider Anise Hyssop, a Native to the US for your garden. Enjoy. Judith
We’ve had a lot of rain here in the NE this spring. Yet we eagerly run out when the sun pokes through a cloud and continue to spruce up yard and garden. We plan our vegetable beds and flower beds and usually look forward to adding something new. I’ve got three great tips for you today to consider when nursery shopping:
1. Think foliage.
We drool over the new hybrid creations that flash color and design but I propose looking at plant specimens from a foliage perspective. Check tags and better yet research the plant first to make sure its compatible with native species in your region. Choose native or heirloom varieties. Then look at foliage types for texture, depth, and color. The trick is to plant-wide leafed plants next to ones that are lacier or with a finer texture. For example, hostas have a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. Their strong root system makes them ideal next to wet areas, ponds. They can handle some shade too. Next, consider planting daisies between the wider leafed varieties such as Leucanthemum vulgare.
Years ago I planted several Hosta varieties ( deep blue leafs next to variegated white and green with yellow tints in between) in a relatively small shaded area to create a textured appearance. It takes a couple of years for new plants to fill in space but it’s worth it. Are deer a problem? Yes, they can be. Hostas are one of their favorites. I sprinkled cayenne pepper on leaves routinely and then added a nonobtrusive wire mess to the area.
2. Add food producing plants to your landscapes.
In previous posts, I have mentioned adding fruit-bearing shrubs such as blueberries, cranberries, and loganberries into more traditional non-food landscapes. If you spray and/or use chemicals then they are not edible. But if you have azalea, rhododendron bushes on your property, which like an acidic soil and are not treated, then you have a great match. Berries add color and provide food and habitat for many species. Get a soil sample done to make sure soil pH will support the berries. Blueberries, cranberries, and loganberries are all in the Vaccinium family and compatible.
3. Plant Wildflowers
Wildflowers can occupy a small land space. I especially recommend them if you have a field of “weeds” and its overrun. While the first year is the most work, the subsequent years need little to no maintenance, are drought resistant, and are sustainable. Meadows provide habitat, shelter, food, and water for so many critters, who are endangered today. My book, At the Garden’s Gate, has a chapter on how to turn lawn into a meadow in 7 easy steps.
We get creative in spring with our land spaces. After winter’s quiet and mono palette we look forward to springs renewal. I know I do.
I hope you found these tips helpful. What changes will you make in your gardens this year? Share your stories. We enjoy hearing from you. Judith.
Description: Today’s talk is all about bees and pollinators. Gunther Hauk is a world-renowned advocate for bees. Spikenard Farm and Honeybee Sanctuary, in Floyd VA, offers training, classes in beekeeping, seed saving and more. Featured in the documentary, Queen of the Sun, he shares his wisdom, expertise and deep caring for the natural world. I am honored to have him here today and I hope you will be as inspired as I am by his wise counsel. All comments are appreciated.
About My Guest: Gunther Hauk is a retired Waldorf school teacher. He is the founder of Spikenard Farm, Honeybee Sanctuary, located in Floyd, VA. He is also the founder of the Pfeiffer Center in Spring Valley, NY. Both farms operate on biodynamic principles. Gunther is featured in Queen of the Sun documentary where he joins with others highlighting the issues and the grave concerns many have over the honeybee population declines.
Transcript: #51 Gunther Hauk
Goldenrod, sweet goldenrod, also known as blue mountain tea, fills the countryside with golden yellow color as summer moves into its third act. These flowers are attractive sources of nectar for bees, flies, wasps, and butterflies. It plays host to many beneficial insects and repels pests. Most species are native to North America.
Did you know that Thomas Edison studied goldenrod extensively in his search for native plants with rubber content? It seems he was asked to find a more “local” source of rubber for his friends, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. At that time, in the 1920’s, these entrepreneurs and automobile pioneers had to rely on tropical sources of rubber which could be a problem if strife hit those countries. Unfortunately, Thomas Edison could not extract enough rubber-like substance from goldenrod to make the endeavor worthwhile.
Here is in this country Goldenrod was used by the Native Americans to treat wounds. The early settlers used it for several types of ailments as well. I make a salve using goldenrod flowers and leaves. Its one of several ingredients in my salve and I have a lot of testimonials for its effectiveness.
Botanical name: Solidago sps: Solidago has about 100 species of flowering plants in the family Asteracaea
Parts Used: aerial parts; does not usually flower till the second year; blooms continuously from July through fall in most regions;
Where Found: native to North America; one species, Solidago virgaurea is the only one native to Great Britain.
Uses: aromatic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, diuretic, astringent, One of the chemical components in goldenrod, the saponins, seem to be helpful with the Candida fungus which produces various types of fungal infections and thrush. Goldenrod leaves are most commonly used in tea form. Note it is difficult to find goldenrod in the health food industry as a tincture or capsule. This plant has an unfounded reputation as being the cause of hay fever. Please note:
“Toxicity: None known. Goldenrods are often blamed for causing hay fever because they flower during allergy season. However, the true culprits are ragweeds (Ambrosia spp.). Goldenrod flowers are mainly insect pollinated, so the flowers are showy to attract insects and pollen is relatively heavy and sticky compared to that of ragweed. It is unlikely that the wind-blown allergens affecting hay fever sufferers include appreciable amounts of goldenrod pollen.”
Ragweed is wind-dispersed and makes it the likely culprit for hay fever. So many folks insist that goldenrod is the culprit for their hay fever allergies. Yet the seed patterns do not seem to support this claim.
Whenever I take students on field walks I can usually find ragweed nearby, thriving next to goldenrods.
Goldenrod and others support wildlife and diversity. Galls form on stems and when left alone after summer bloom, they can provide homes and food to other wildlife. Downy woodpeckers and Chickadees, in particular, search for galls for winter food. Many bugs form the galls for their young. When deadened stems are left in fields, they provide food for many.
My podcast guest this week, Jane Seymour, describes and educates us on the role many meadow plants play in maintaining a holistic ecosystem. Meadows, fields demonstrate that many parts play a role in supporting the whole. Remember fields, whose appearance seems messy and haphazard, have a beneficial focus, most of which is hard to see. However, in my backyard meadow, I sit and listen to various bees create a hum that’s soothing on a hot summer’s day. I love the deep mustard yellows of goldenrods too, placed among the pinky purples of joe-pye weed and the purples of woodland asters as if some invisible impressionist painter stole in during the night. And, I watch the wildlife, the birds and other critters who hide out here.
Food, shelter, habitat, goldenrod fulfills an invaluable service to our community. For without our plants and plant communities, our insects suffer. If they suffer then we will too. We are all connected by an invisible web and while mysterious and splendid, we have much to learn. Nature is here to teach us.
We appreciate your comments. Please share. Thanks.
Enjoy your day. Judith