Identification: American Elder is a native American shrub, growing 5 to 12 feet high. The stems are covered with rough, yellowish-gray bark. The leaves are opposite (paired), compound, with 5 to 11 Elder Flowers
elliptical to lance-shaped leaflets; sharply toothed. Numerous small, white, fragrant flowers appear in flat, umbrella-like clusters from May to July. The fruit is a dark purple berry appearing from June to September. The European Elder (Sambucus nigra), though larger than the American Elder has similar characteristics and similar properties.
Habitat: Damp areas and waste places, particularly in the central and eastern United States. Nova Scotia to Georgia; Texas to Manitoba.
Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle family)
Other Names: Black Elder, Common Elder, Elderberry, Rob Elder, Sweet Elder
Flowers: May – July
Parts Used: Flowers, berries, inner bark, and leaves.
History: Elder has a long history dating beyond the stone ages. Egyptians discovered that applying its flowers improved the complexion and healed burns. Many early Indian tribes used elderberry in teas and other beverages. In the 19th century the British often drank home made wine that was thought to prolong life and cure the common cold.
Properties: Cathartic, diaphoretic, diuretic, purgative, and stimulant.
Constituents: Elder leaves contain the flavonoids rutin and quercertin, alkaloids, vitamin C and sambunigrin, a cyanogenic glucoside. Fresh elder leaves also contain hydrocyanic acid, cane sugar, invertin, betulin, free fatty acids, and a considerable quantity of potassium nitrate.
Main Uses: The leaves and flowers are a common ingredient in ointments and poultices for burns and scalds, swelling, cuts and scrapes. An infusion of leaves and flowers or a decoction of bark serves as an antiseptic wash for skin problems, wounds, and inflammations. The flowers are a mild astringent and are used in skin washes to refine the complexion and help relieve eczema, acne and psoriasis. Flower tea taken warm is said to stimulate and to induce sweating; it can also be taken for headaches due to colds and for rheumatism. A tea is also used to sooth sore throats, speed recovery from cold and flu and relieve respiratory distress. Taken cold, it has diuretic properties. Warm elderberry wine is a remedy for sore throat, influenza and induces perspiration to reverse the effects of a chill. The juice from the berries is an old fashioned cure for colds, and is also said to relieve asthma and bronchitis. Infusions of the fruit are beneficial for nerve disorders, back pain, and have been used to reduce inflammation of the urinary tract and bladder. An infusion of the leaf buds is strongly purgative. Fresh berry juice, evaporated into a syrup, is moderately purgative.
CAUTION! Bark, root, leaves and unripe berries of elder are toxic; said to cause cyanide poisoning, severe diarrhea. Berries edible when cooked. Flowers not thought to be toxic.
Preparation and Dosages:
Infusion: Use 1 teaspoon plant parts with 1 cup water. 2 to 4 ounces up to 3 times a day.
Cold Infusion: 1 to 2 ounces up to 3 times a day.
Tincture: Take 20 to 40 drops in water, three to four times a day.
American Elder is also a wild food.