Herb of the Month: Elder

Herb of the Month: Elder
July 16, 2015 Colleen Emery




The wisdom of nature never ceases to amaze me, with its ability to provide exactly what we need at the time we need it. With the recent surge of hot weather along come the blossoms of the Elder tree. So uniquely connected the flowers arrive just at the time we can really benefit from their medicine.


This wonderful, wise tree has much medicine to offer us. Its beautiful, white, star-shaped flowers bloom brightly at the start of summer, providing us with the herb support for the heat of the season. Elder’s berries come in the fall, just in time to provide support for the upcoming cold and flu season.


Elder are most often found in low, wet areas as a large bush or small tree. The leaves are compound, having five to nine leaflets, and can be distinguished before flowering by a narrow groove that runs along the top of the leaf stem. In the summer numerous white umbels of flowers bloom, which ripen to blue-black berry clusters in the fall. There is also a red-berried Elder, which looks very similar but flowers early in the spring and bears its fruit in early summer. Red Elder berries are considered “toxic”, and should not be used.


Elder is steeped in myth, and is among the most revered of herbs, being considered a guardian and gatekeeper to the virtues of all other growing things. Maude Grieve’s Modern Herbal and Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers delve much more deeply into the lore of the Elder, and are worth looking into to gain a deeper insight into its mythical medicine.


The dried flowers of Elder are very diaphoretic, meaning they encourage perspiration and the release of heat. They also have the ability to expectorate phlegm from the respiratory system. Elder flowers are mildly sedative, helping to create a feeling of ease and relaxation.

Medicine created from the flowers, when consumed in the heat of the summer months, will help the body to cool, relax and enjoy the season more thoroughly. The same medicine, when taken warm in the winter months will help to disperse a cold or flu bug from the body in the early stages by encouraging a fever to work more effectively. An excellent way to capture both uses is to make syrup from the blossoms.




Supplies needed:

1 cup dried Elderflower or 2 cups fresh.

1 cup honey (you can use less if you prefer a less sweet syrup)

3 cups clean water

1 lemon, cut into slices

Clean bottle to package in

Brandy (optional)




  • In a medium pot, add the flowers and the lemon slices to the water and bring to a light boil. Allow to boil, very lightly, for only 1 minute. Turn off the heat and let the mixture infuse for 3 hours with the lid on.


  • After 3 hours have passed, strain out the lemons and flowers. Measure the liquid you have remaining. Traditionally syrup is one part liquid to one part sweetener. For some, this may be too sweet. Use your judgement and add the appropriate amount of honey to your liking. Heat the mixture slightly to infuse the honey and tea.


  • Completely cool the mixture prior to bottling. Honey acts as a mild preservative giving this syrup a shelf life in the fridge of about 30 – 50 days. By adding 20% by volume of alcohol you create shelf stable syrup with a shelf life of 1 year. Brandy is quite lovely as an addition to this syrup.



  • Add 1 tablespoon of this syrup to sparking water as a delicious summer beverage. Also can be added to lemonade, iced tea, tibicos or kombucha.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of the syrup to a hot cup of peppermint and yarrow tea during times of fevers. Safe for children at this dosage, the syrup helps mellow the bitter taste of yarrow.
  • Add 1 teaspoon to a hot cup of mullein tea to help encourage expectoration during times of respiratory infection.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of the syrup to a cool tea of lavender, chamomile or lemon balm to help cool and calm the nerves and relax the body.

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