Herb of the month – June – Elder
Elderflower – Sambucus nigra
Elder is a very common small tree with creamy flowers, found all over Britain. It is often found near old cottages, farmhouses, field edges, waste ground and railway embankments. For those not familiar with the elder: the flowers are arranged as flat topped bunches of tiny five-petalled flowers, the leaf shape is an elongated oval which is serrated. The leaves are arranged on the stalk as two pairs opposite one another on their stems with one leaf on its own at the end of the pairs (also known as a pinnate arrangement). It flowers from the end of May and has dark purple/black berries which ripen at the end of August.
There is a long history of the flowers and berries being used as medicines. As it is now June and the flowers just beginning to come out now here in West Wales, I will concentrate on the flowers. I will come back to the berries in later in the year.
Making a tea with the fresh or dried elderflowers has the effect of encouraging you to sweat more. Herbs with this quality are called diaphoretics. This action is very useful at the onset of a cold. By drinking a hot cup of elderflower tea you are enhancing the body’s own reaction to a viral infection by raising the temperature and then bringing the fever down by encouraging sweating. If you drink a few cups of elderflower tea when you feel you are coming down with a cold, and go to bed early, you will lessen the symptoms and may even shorten its duration.
Elderflower also has anti-cattarrhal properties which act upon the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. It helps to drink this when you have profuse, catarrh, particularly the type where your nose won’t stop dripping. It can also help to lessen the symptoms of hay-fever, particularly if you drink it daily for a few weeks prior to the allergy season. To make a tea: Use a tablespoon of fresh flowers or 2 to 3 teaspoons of dried elderflower per pot of tea.
A distilled water made from elderflowers makes a lovely skin tonic. It has been used this way for hundreds of years, particularly for sunburned or freckly skin.