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HERBAL INFORMATION – American Elder Flower


Family: Caprifoliaceae

Latin names: Sambucus nigra spp. canadensis

Common names: Elder, Bour Tree, Eldrum, Ellhorn, Old Gal, Old Lady, Pipe Tree, Lady Ellhorn  

Parts Used:  Bark, flowers, berries, leaves

Constituents: Flowers: Triterpenes (ursolic acid, oleanolic acid, α- and β-amyrin, sterols); fixed oils (free fatty acids, mainly linoleic, linolenic, and palmitic acids); miscellaneous: phenolic acids; pectin; sugars.  Leaf: Triterpenes (similar to those founds in flowers); cyanogenic glycosides, flavonoids (kaempferol, quercetin, and many quercetin glycosides); miscellaneous: fatty acids, alkanes, tannins 1



Native to both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, Elders presence is more widespread to the north.  The elder tree can grow up to 6 metres tall with sparsely branched, pithy stems, compound leaves and small white elderflowers in flat-topped clusters.


Called the ‘medicine chest of the common people’, Elder has been used in folk medicine for centuries in Europe.  The word Elder comes from the Anglo-saxon word ‘aeld’ meaning ‘fire’. 

In Britain during the 17th century, Elder was often used in the making of homemade wines and cordials.  These beverages were thought to prolong life and cure the common cold.  Traditionally the stem of the Elder was used in Europe to make magical wands for ritual purposes.  Other magical properties of Elder can be found below.


Uses of Elder, for a variety of purposes, can be found throughout history, literature and folklore.  The Egyptians discovered that applying the leaves topically was good for a person’s complexion.  Shakespeare referred to Elder as the ‘symbol for grief’.  Traditionally the Russians and English believed that Elder trees planted in the front of a home can help to ward off evil spirits.  During the Middle Ages people believed that the trees themselves were homes to witches and cutting down the tree would bring the wrath of those residing in its branches. 


Therapeutic Properties

Antiallergenic, anticatarrhal, anti-inflammatory (local, systemic), antirheumatic, antiviral, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, immune stimulant, neurovasodilator, nervine, relaxant, tranquilizer, vulnerary


Medicinal Uses


  • Colds, influenza, bronchitis, fevers (including childhood fevers), sinus infections, coughs, allergies, congestion of the respiratory tract (both lower and upper), postnasal drip
  • Helps to stimulate the immune system


  • Rheumatic conditions
  • Skin conditions (eczema, acne, psoriasis)

Nervous System

  • Stress-related conditions, tension, tension headaches


  • Inflammation, UTI, edema (dropsy)


  • Topical conditions (cuts, bite, scrapes, stings, burns, wounds etc.)


Magical Properties

Gender: Feminine

Planet: Venus

Element: Water


  • Protection, healing, prosperity, sleep, exorcism

Some Magical/Folk Uses:

  • Hung over doorways and entrances to homes to protect and ward off evil
  • Grown near the home to give prosperity to the household
  • Used at weddings to bless and bring good luck to the couple
  • Pregnant women can kiss the Elder tree for good fortune for the coming baby



Class Notes – Living Earth School

Cunningham’s Enclyclopedia of Magical Herbs – Scott Cunningham

Earthwise Herbal, The – Matthew Wood

Holistic Herbal – David Hoffman

Medical Herbalism – David Hoffman 1

New Encylopedia of Herbs & Their Uses – Deni Bown