The elderberry belongs to the Caprifoliaceae family and can be found in Western Europe and Asia. There are about 20-30 species of elderberry.
Sambucus nigra, the elderberry that has black fruits, is the most widespread species in Europe. Sometimes it can be found in many places like ditches, along the roadside, in humid forests and riversides.
Its presence indicates a soil rich in nitrogen. The elderberry is used as an ornamental plant, for hedges and lately is grown for its many health benefits.
Its name comes from the Greek word “sambuke”, indicating a musical instrument. In fact, in the past, the bare branches of the plant were used to create a kind of flute. Evidence of its use dates back to the Stone Age. It was considered a “magic plant” and it was belived that it has the supernatural abilities to guard against “evil”.
The elderberry blooms in late spring and early summer, between April and June. The flowers are small, star-shaped, yellowish white and are arranged in the shape of an umbrella. Because they have a strong scent, they attract many insects. The elderberry provides shelter and food to many birds and insects that feed on its leaves, flowers, pollen and fruits.
In ancient Egypt it was used for treating burns. In traditional medicine, elderberry flowers have been used to clean the body internally because of its ability to stimulate diuresis and perspiration.
The elderberry contains essential oils, tannins, organic acids, mucilage, potassium, sugar, fructose, minerals, a large amount of vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin E and a number of glycosides such as routine and sambunigrin.
The infusion of dried flowers made from 2 teaspoons in a cup of water, filtered after 5 minutes and sweetened with honey is a good remedy for respiratory diseases, effective against coughs, colds, flu, because of its diaphoretic, anti-pyretic, anti-catarrhal and expectorant effects .
It also helps digestion, reduces inflammation, is antineuralgic and emollient.
From leaves you can prepare a soothing ointment for ecchymosis (bruising), sprains, wounds and frostbites. Burned leaves were used to drive away insects and the leaf infusion was sprayed on plants to protect them from aphids, caterpillars and fungi.
Flowers are used in cosmetics, to prepare lotions for easing pain, bleaching, face toning, astringent masks, decongestants, emollients and for normalizing sebaceous secretion.
Fresh flowers are good in salads, omelettes, pancakes and for preparing a refreshing drink that is energizing, diuretic and laxative without using the green parts of the flower’s umbrella.
To keep the grapes in good condition, French grape growers put in crates a row of grapes followed by a row of dried elderberry flowers.
Nature offers us its best and the elderberry is just in example. It is up to us to protect and nurture it if we still want to have access to all these miracle plants.