Elderberry takes such a prominent place in folk medicine that it is often called the people's medicine chest. The stories that accompany folk medicine include that burning the bark of the elder will bring bad luck, but sprigs of elder leaves hung in the house will keep evil witches away. Today, elder can be purchased in extracts, infusions, tinctures and capsules and is often found combined with other herbs. While elder has been used as a herbal medicine for centuries, check with your health care provider before starting herbal treatments.
The cream-colored flowers of the elderberry are strong and sweet and appear in the spring. The flowers of the elderberry have been used to aid in the relief of flu and cold symptoms. Teas and tinctures made from the flowers have been used to stop a runny nose and control fevers. Throughout history home remedies have relied on the diuretic, expectorant and circulatory stimulant actions of the elderberry flowers as well as topical anti-inflammatory actions.
Clusters of deep purple to black berries appear after the spring flowering of the elder. The fruit of the elderberry contain viburnic acid and tannins that are useful in aiding respiration, diarrhea and nasal condition. Folk medicine has recognized the beneficial effects of these of diaphoretic, diuretic and laxative properties and used the elderberry fruit to treat a wide assortment of ailments, ranging from sinus congestion and sore throat to rheumatism. The berries have also been used as a treatment for diarrhea as well as constipation.
The inner bark of the elderberry is also utilized in herbal medicine. Long used as a topical emollient, the bark has also been used as a purgative, diuretic, expectorant and laxative.
The broad serrated leaves of the elderberry have been used in medicinal herbal decoctions, tinctures and infusions for a variety of ailments. The diaphoretic actions of elderberry make the use of leaves for tea a good treatment to sweat out toxins in the body. Teas made from elderberry leaves are also used to treat colds and flu, to increase urinary production and topically to treat minor burns.