Healing Weeds - Getting a closer contact with the healing world of herbs and wild plants.

Monday, June 24, 2013


Sambucus nigra
NL: Vlier / F: Sureau Noir

Elder is a great pioneer shrub or small tree that can come to help when replanting woodlands or in a forest garden project. It grows very quick, it is resistant and helps to shelter and support larger, slow-growing trees, protecting them from harsh weather. It is a great garden-guardian, protecting the neighboring plants against undesirable insects. 

Elder leaves can be prepared in a decoction to be used as  insect repellent spray as well as to treat plants from fungal infection, leaf rot and powdery mildew. It improves fermentation of compost piles when growing near it. In fact, the plant can activate composting processes when added to compost heaps.

The only edible parts of the plant are the flowers and the very ripe berries, like in when they are really dark purple-black. Even then, the berries are safer to be consumed when cooked, as the possible traces of cyanogenic substances are then destroyed by cooking. Red-brownish berries should absolutely be avoided. All other parts of the plant, leaves, twigs, stems, contain poisonous cyanide-containing substances.

Medicinally speaking one could write an entire treatise on the possible healing applications for elder. Its most popular use is as anti-inflammatory and expectorant, used to treat coughs, common cold, flu, bronchitis and various affections of the respiratory tract. It also helps to relieve fever that might result from these conditions. Both flowers and berries are common ingredients of herbal anti-cough syrups. 

An infusion of the flowers is also used in cleansing cures, as general tonic and to treat eye inflammation. For its great emollient and astringent properties, the flowers can be used in various creams and lotions to help heal skin problems, burns, wounds, itchiness. Elderflowers are also part of some natural beauty creams.

Elderflowers are popularly used to prepare refreshing beverages in many countries. I love making my own elderflower lemonade by soaking the flowers with mineral water in a covered glass container exposed to sunlight (when available, otherwise, just at the window waiting for the sun to show up) for an entire day and one evening (24 hours). Then I strain it with a coffee filter, add freshly grated lemon zest and lemon juice and sweeten it with stevia. I leave it cool down in the fridge for a few hours before drinking it and I make sure it is consumed within two days. The flowers (only the flowers, not the stems!) from the strained drink I try to use in other culinary creations, not to waste these precious nature gifts.

Want to know more about elder? Check out the links below:

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