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News, Posts & Articles

Nov 18, 2016

Respect Your Elders

What a gift from mother nature! Our beloved Elder tree, Sambucus nigra. The creamy umbells of flowers are brightening up many a hedgerow all over Ireland this summer.  And summer for me is synonymous with those beautiful fragrant blossoms.  This is a veritable treasure chest for any Herbalist. 

Traditionally we use the flowers, berries, bark and leaves in herbal medicine.  The flowers are in bloom early summer and have a delicious flavour and distinctive aroma.  I make Elderflower cordial each year and you can find my recipe on my website Summer in a glass!

Elderflowers are useful in upper respiratory tract inflammation and catarrhal conditions.  Indicated for treatment of hay fever, sinusitis and colds, the flowers help alleviate the symptoms of inflammation and mucus congestion.  They have a diaphoretic action, which means they encourage sweating by opening the pores, and are often combined with Yarrow and Peppermint to help treating the symptoms of a cold.

The flowers are a good source of flavonoids, a very useful set of antioxidants to support the integrity of blood vessels and reduce inflammation.  Some of the flavonoids in this flower have an anti-histamine action and so can be useful in itchy skin conditions when drunk as a tea, or used as a compress. 

To make an elderflower infusion, steep 2- 3 teaspoons of the fresh flowers in a mug of boiled water for 10 minutes, drink while hot, 3 cups per day.  The flowers are edible and can be a nice addition to stewed fruit, or even fresh fruit salads. 

The leaves can be used in an ointment to treat bruising, sprains, wounds and chilblains. You can make an oil infusion to extract the medicinal qualities from the leaves.  Plantain leaves combine well with Elder for this healing ointment.

The berries require a piece all about themselves as they are a potent anti-viral and are a must in my kitchen medicine cupboard.  The smell of my homemade Elderberry syrup brings me to the autumn and preparing winter remedies (Not ready for that yet!)  Check back in September for more information on the Elderberries.

Important harvesting information.  As tempted as you will be to pick all the flowers from a tree, it is bad practice and strips the tree of food and flora for the local ecosystem.  A good rule of thumb is to take no more than a third, leaving a third for the tree itself and the final third for the animals and bees. 

Traditionally cultures have left an offering to the tree in gratitude like a piece of tobacco.  There is a vast amount of folklore attached to this tree, and it has a powerful protective reputation. So I urge you to respect your Elders!!