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