Herb Spotlight - Elderberry

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)  

Family: Caprifoliaceae

Part Used: Fruit

Flavor/Aroma: Sour; Sweet, Bitter

Energetics: Cooling, Drying



The Elder tree is steeped in rich folklore. It has numerous native and European historical uses, and has since taken on modern day applications. Elderberries are revered for their high levels of antioxidants, tannins, flavonoids, amino acids, as well as vitamins A, B, and C. The berries are commonly used as a go to influenza remedy, but have also been used to stimulate and support the immune system as a preventive medicine.


Elderberries grow on the Elder tree, which can reach heights of upwards of 12 feet, and grows with a woody, shrubby appearance. Elderberries express themselves in clusters of small, dark purple berries, that become ripe at the end of the summer months and into the fall.

Cultivation and Harvesting:

Elderberries are best harvested after all flowers have expressed, and the berries have ripened to a deeper violet tone. It is indegenous to Europe, northern Africa, and southern Siberia, and grows best in lower, damp soils or in waste places. Elder trees are naturalized in the United States and grow in a similar terroir.  

Southern Oregon Cultivation:

Elder trees are fairly common in Southern Oregon, and can be found most notably on the sides of trails, peeking out toward the sun from the forest's edge. Stands of Elder trees will become full of ripe, medicinal berries by the end of the summer, but you may be fighting the local scavengers for their bounty.

History and Folklore:

American Native Uses: Tribes have been noted to have used the berries for treating fevers and rheumatism; they also have used various other parts of the tree as a rich food source, and for making instruments and tools. 

As the folklore goes, the Elder tree, also referred to as ‘Elder Mother’, reigns as the Queen of the Underworld, and all those that wish to collect her fruits must provide an offering first, or it is said to be that illness and misfortune would be bestowed upon the collector by the Elder tree spirits and fairies.² 

European Traditional Uses: Elderberries have been used as pie fillings, for preservatives, to flavor liquors and wines, and as medicinal supplements such as syrups and lozenges. They were used to prevent or treat numerous illnesses, especially feverish conditions.¹

Modern Applications:

Elderberries are utilized in a variety ways to remedy illnesses such as the common cold and influenza.³ It is indicated to support the immune system, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels, improving vision, and to tonify cardiovascular tissue.1

Uses and Preparations:

Dried Herb Tea Preparation: 

Fresh or Dried Fruit: Infuse into apple cider vinegar, make into jams, jellies, fillings, more.

Using a reusable tea bag or tea ball, immerse the loose dried herbs into boiling water and allow to steep for 5-10 minutes, preferably covered, in order to release the maximum amount of herbal goodness. Some herbal tea can carry a strong flavor. We recommend organic honey as a sweetener which preserves the beneficial herbal compounds. 


Tincture: 2-4 mL up to 4 times per day, and more as needed for symptomatic relief.

Some herbal tinctures can have a strong flavor on their own. Adding your tincture to a glass of 6-8oz of water is one easy way to help, should you wish to dilute the flavor.  

Recommended Usage:

It is important to remember that some bodies may react differently than others when using herbal products. Our recommended usage amounts are designed to be an average dosage only. If you have specific concerns about the usage amount or interaction with other medication, please consult with your doctor or health care practitioner prior to using our products.


The raw fruit contains sambunigrin, which may cause severe diarrhea and vomiting if ingested. We recommend consulting with your practitioner if you are pregnant, or plan to become pregnant, or if you are using any other medications.  


  1. Sambucus (U. S. P.). (n.d.). www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/kings/sambucus.html 
  2. Basch, E., Goldberg, H., Cheung, L., Hammerness, P., Khalsa KP., (March 11, 2014). An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24409980 
  3. Lea, R., Tiralongo, E., Wee, S. (March 24, 2016). Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-COntrolled Clinical Trial. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848651

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.