Scientific Name(S): The American elder (Sambucus canadensis L.) and the European Elder (Sambucus nigra L.). Family: Caprifoliaceae
Common Name(S): Sweet elder, common elder, elderberry, sambucus
The name Elder is thought to refer to an old Anglo-Saxon term, "aeld", meaning fire or kindle, as the hollow stems of the Elder were blown on a fire to get it started. Many cultures felt this tree was so special that they refused to burn the wood or use it to make furniture, lest it bring bad luck to the household. It was planted by homes to protect the house from lightning, bring prosperity, happy marriage and healthy children, and protect from evil. Elderberry helps strengthen and maintain the immune & respiratory systems
Botany: The American elder is a tall shrub that grows to 12 feet. It is native to North America. The European elder grows to about 30 feet and while native to Europe, has been naturalized to the United States.
Elder flowers and berries have been used in traditional medicine and as flavorings for centuries. In folk medicine, the flowers have been used for their diuretic and laxative properties and as an astringent. Various parts of the elder have been used to treat cancer and a host of other unrelated disorders. Distilled elder flower water has been used as a scented vehicle for topical preparations and extracts are used to flavor foods, including alcoholic beverages. The fruits have been used to prepare elderberry wine.
Uses of Elderberry
Elder flowers and berries have been used in flavorings and in traditional medicines.
The leaves were touted by European herbalists to be pain relieving and to promote healing of injuries when applied as a poultice
Side Effects of Elderberry
There have been reports of toxicity, particularly involving the stems and leaves.
A syrup of black elderberry extract (1 teaspoon-1 tablespoon [5-15 ml] for children, 2 teaspoons-2 tablespoons [10-30 ml] for adults) can be taken twice daily. A tea made from 1/2-1 teaspoon (3-5 grams) of the dried flowers steeped in 1 cup (250 ml) boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes may be drunk three times per day.
Toxicology: Because of the cyanogenic potential of the leaves, extracts of the plant may be used in foods, provided HCN levels do not exceed 25 ppm in the flavor. Toxicity in children who used pea shooters made from elderberry stems has been reported.
One report of severe illness following the ingestion of juice prepared from elderberries has been recorded by the Centers for Disease Control. Persons attending a picnic who ingested several glasses of juice made from berries picked the day before reported nausea, vomiting, weakness, dizziness, numbness and stupor. One person who consumed five glasses of juice was hospitalized for stupor. All recovered. Although cyanide levels were not reported, there remains the possibility of cyanide-induced toxicity in these patients. While elderberries are safe to consume, particularly when cooked (uncooked berries may produce nausea), leaves and stems should not be crushed when making elderberry juice.
Summary: Elderberries are edible berries (particularly when cooked) from the elder bush. They have been used medicinally although they are not typically associated with strong medicinal characteristics. One report of toxicity following the ingestion of elderberry juice has been recorded, but this appears to have been an isolated incident.
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