Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve done short posts on herbs to keep in your home for immunity and general health. However, Elder has a special place in my heart and I feel like it deserves a little extra...
...Ok, this might be *partially* because of my affinity for Harry Potter, but Elder really is a magical medicinal!
The bulk of this information comes from one of my favorite East/West herbal texts:
Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide
By: Thomas Avery Garran
The first thing to know about Elder is its versatility; the flowers, berries, twigs, bark, and pollen can all be used medicinally and recreationally. Additionally, Elder has been written about since ~500BC in countries all around the globe. Hippocrates proclaimed Elder as a remedy for colds/flus, constipation, and certain OB-GYN conditions. In ancient Druid and pagan cultures, the Elder was thought to be a portal between our world and the faerie realm, and was therefore always regarded with reverence and mysticism. In fact, it was believed that drinking Elderflower tea or making Elderberry foods was a way to show respect to the faeries and earn good fortune and health. In present day, this actually makes sense considering Elder's strong anti-viral properties.
So, let’s get into the essence of this wonderful flora’s medicinal properties...
Bark, Twigs, and Pollen: Not as commonly used
The bark is used to alleviate constipation caused by “hot type” digestive conditions. In the winter time, we tend to indulge, so this can be a great herb to have in your kitchen to offset the effects of the rich holiday foods.
The twigs are mostly used to treat hot type tendon and bone pain; in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we call this “Heat Bi.” However, there are several other herbs in TCM Materia Medica that are better suited to treat Heat Bi, so Elder twigs aren’t used very often.
The pollen is mostly used cosmetically; its smooth and silky texture makes it an excellent addition to lotions for soothing the skin. The best way to collect pollen is to simply lay a screen under a flowering elder tree and catch the pollen that falls from the flowers. Add the pollen to your favorite lotion and apply as desired.
Flowers & Berries: The flowers and berries are the most commonly used parts of the elder and share similar properties.
Elderflower is used to treat the initial states of an upper respiratory infection (URI) presenting with fever, cough, & sore/red/swollen throat. Elderflower is also a premiere diaphoretic. You see, in TCM diaphoresis (sweating) is considered to be the best way to expel an illness – you literally “sweat it out.” Because of this quality, Elderflower is an excellent ingredient to use in formulas that traditionally included Ma Huang (Ephedra). Ephedra used to be the go-to herb for URI’s because of its diaphoretic & anti-asthmatic properties. However, it was relentlessly abused by the supplement industry as a weight-loss herb, but was marketed without providing cautions and contraindications for use. As a result, many suffered severe and even mortal consequences, which inevitably black-listed the herb.
Elderflower is also very similar to honeysuckle (Jin Yin Hua), but is more drying and doesn’t penetrate as deep. I prefer to use elder in earlier stages of sore throat illnesses that also present with puffiness and swelling around the eyes, sinuses, and throat. I prefer to use honeysuckle when the patient has been sick for longer and presenting with a high fever.
Lastly, like most flowers, elder targets the upper body, so in addition to purging early URIs, elderflower can be useful for individuals with internal liver heat flaring upwards producing sore throat, migraines and red eyes.
*Fun Fact: Elderflowers are one of the best remedies for when a URI triggers a migraine!*
Now moving on to the berries. Elderflower and elderberry carry the same properties and can, for the most part, be used interchangeably when treating Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs). I typically use the flower for teas and decoctions and use the berries for making Elderberry Syrup. Elderberry syrup is a great remedy to soothe the throat when you’re feeling ill and is very easy to make (see recipe below). Because of its strong anti-viral properties, elderberry syrup is a tasty way to prevent colds and flus; I call it my “natural flu shot”. I also like to use the syrup when, in addition to an illness, a patient is also constipated. Elderberries are also a great example of culinary medicine, and make wonderful additions to pies and pastries.
Well, that about sums it up for now! As you can see, this little tree and all its parts truly make it an exceptional herbal medicinal. And yes, AcuBalance will soon be carrying Elderberries for purchase so you can make your own Elderberry syrup, as well as a special herbal tea blend so you can make your very own "Sniffle Tea" at home!
Stay warm, healthy, and cozy my friends!