When we think of the term “Elder” we think of the wisdom that is passed down through generations, we think of that essence which binds a group together through storytelling and experience. Elders are the guardians of ancestral knowledge and a bridge to the potential of all those that follow. When we think of elder we think of Mother. They will embrace you with their protection and teach you how to set boundaries.
Elder is highly sacred with a spirit known as the Elder Mother, or ‘Hylde Moer’ in Danish, living inside the tree. This spirit guards every Elder tree and has the ability to protect and to harm. In many ancient mythologies, the Elder tree is believed to protect against all evils and black magick. However, if elder was collected without the proper respect, elder spirits were believed to follow the offender, plaguing the wrongdoer until the error had been rectified with the appropriate honor. Legend has it that magical powers from the Elder Mother are gifted by her to parts of the tree and she transforms the tree’s natural gifts - flowers, berries, and wood - into wonderful blessings! In fact, Grieve writes that its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for fire and indicates old customs in which hollowed stems were used to fan a coal into a fire.
The leaves of the Elder tree protect a home or a person when dried and hung in a doorway or around the neck. It is a particularly good omen if an Elder grows near a dwelling, as the tree’s proximity to the home protects its inhabitants. In many ancient legends, the Elder tree is magical and symbolizes good health and prosperity.
Most famously, Elder has been treasured for its medicinal uses for thousands of years. It is believed to be a curative for more than 70 diseases, ranging from the plague to toothache! In medieval England, it was said that summer had not arrived until the Elder was in full bloom and that it ended when the berries were ripe.
Both the flowers and the berries of elder are wonderful for upper respiratory infections like the cold or flu and several studies have shown it to be as effective as modern antiviral drugs.
In one placebo-controlled, double-blind study conducted by Israeli virologist Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, 93.3% of the people taking an elderberry preparation reported significant improvement in influenza symptoms within 2 days of starting it, compared with the 6 days it took for the placebo group to see improvement.1
In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study performed in Norway, researchers gave either a placebo syrup or elderberry syrup to patients who reported having flu-like symptoms for less than 48 hours. The results were similar to Dr. Mumcuoglu’s results. On average, the patients who received the elderberry syrup saw relief of symptoms 4 days earlier than the group that received the placebo syrup. As an added benefit, the patients in the elderberry syrup group reported taking significantly fewer over-the-counter medications in hopes of symptom relief.2
Researchers also have found that people who have taken elderberries have higher levels of antibodies against the influenza virus, showing that not only may the berry be able to treat flu symptoms, it may also be able to prevent influenza infection.3
So how are elderberries thought to work as an antiviral? There are probably many mechanisms of action, but a prime one is that elderberries contain hemagglutinin protein. This protein has been shown to stop a virus’ capability to replicate by inhibiting its ability to penetrate the cell wall, thereby preventing the virus from causing infection if taken before exposed. If elderberries are taken after infection, that keeps the virus from spreading, which reduces the duration of influenza symptoms.
The elderberry plant is generally safe for most people. Eating the raw seed can lead to nausea and vomiting for those who eat too many of them.
These flavanoid-rich berries can modulate inflammation and decrease oxidative stress. Elderberries have been known to strengthen the eyes, decrease arthirtic pain, and even as a treatment to shorten a herpes outbreak. Elderberries may also be an important herb for type 2 diabetes.
The Elder is a pretty, deciduous tree that naturally transforms with every season. Its lush, green leaves unfurl in early spring, an abundance of large, scented white flowers blossom in summer and glossy black berries ripen every autumn. The Elder tree will happily grow in any garden or flower pot and it is wonderful for wildlife, especially the honey bees and garden birds.
Now that is wisdom you need in your life! Remember to always give thanks for the medicine of plants. We recommend you treat elder with the respect that any elder deserves!
1. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus Nigra L.) during an outbreak of Influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med. 1995;1(4):361–9.
2. Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of Influenza A and B virus infections.” J Int Med Res. 2004;32(2):132-40.
3. Roschek Jr. B, Fink RC, McMichael MD, et al. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 2009;70(10):1255-61. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2009.06.003.