Elderflowers are abundant in Minnesota of which you can find Black Elder (Sambuscus canadensis) shrub growing near water or in low soils with lots of sun. Elder is part of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliacea) and forms a genus of 20 different species of which Minnesota has a documented 2 species located predominately in mid-southern regions. The American Elderberry is a tall shrub with weak arching stems with compound leaves and clusters of white 5 petaled flowers. Elderflowers typically bloom in June and will eventually transform into the renown elderberry of which the berries turn from green to purple and are very nutritive, working to build the blood. Be cautious of the Red Elder look-a-like which has red berries (“red is dead”) and flower clusters grow in a more pyramid shape rather than the flat umbra like way.
Properties: diaphoretic, anti-catarraral, alterative, stimulant, pectoral, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory
Uses of Flowers: Tincture, cordial, tea, topically, infused water, edible
The flowers contain flavinoids including rutin, isoquercitfrine and kampherol as well as tannins, essential oil and mucilage. Elderflowers are diaphoretic which makes it a fabulous fever remedy as it brings heat to the surface and opens pores to assist one with sweating (paring well with yarrow blossoms and peppermint). Another benefit to note is that Elderblossoms are anti-catarrral which means they can be of assistance with upper respiratory tract inflammations such as hayfever or sinusitis. An infusion has also been used as an eyewash. There are so many benefits and I can only hit the tip of the iceberg!
Matthew Woods states in, “The Book of Herbal Wisdom” that Elder has an affinity to stagnation of blood and fluids, especially to infants and young children. Stirring up blood in the interior to remove heat and toxins while stimulating the kidneys. Being used for stagnant fluids in body in cases of bruising, boils or edema from renal deficiency. Elder is a great remedy for cold or hot conditions. An ancient remedy for opening the lungs and bringing up mucous as it works with the respiratory tract as well as the digestive organs and pores of the skin. An indication to give Elder is if one may have the following trait(s): puffy look of fullness, reddish/blue on pale skin, congestion appears on meaty parts of body (hips, thighs, forearms). Most effective in beginning and end stages of life (newborn & near death) as the doors of the underworld are most open.
The Elder tree has been used for hundreds of years and associated with a tremendous amount of folk-lore including being a door between worlds and magical fairy realms. Be sure to make an offering to “Elder Mother” when working with this highly beloved plant.
When harvesting, clip the top clusters of flowers and shake off any bugs. When ready to “deflower” it is a tedious and meditative process to say the least. Being sure to only pick the flower heads as the green stems are emetic (makes you vomit). If drying, lay the flowers flat right away as they tend to brown quickly. Once dry, place in an airtight jar with label in a cool shaded location.
Erin Piorier writes in her blog about where to find this lovely plant being, “Black Elderberry is a multi-stemmed shrub that spreads by suckering. It is not too tall. A nice mature stand is often the height of a grown-up or a bit taller. I’ve been able to reach the top of every Elder I have encountered. The bark has characteristic warty lenticels. (Students often think this is a 100% unique id characteristic; it’s not. Other plants have lenticels as well, but it’s one of several characteristics that can guide you in the correct identification of Elder.) Black Elder is a loner; it doesn’t like competition. It also likes it a bit wet and sunny. You won’t find this shrub in the woods; if you do it is probably stunted and struggling. It thrives in the ditch and in the low land, out in the open. Drive around country roads in Minnesota in June and you will see the ditches full of Elder loaded with creamy white blossoms. This is the easiest time to find Elder; it’s everywhere and conspicuous. You also find it sometimes in a hedgerow on the edge of a more wooded area. In the city you will often find it along the banks of streams and city ponds and lakes, but again rarely in the shade.”
In my first year of getting to know the eldlerflower I made a tincture, infusion and dried out a small batch of flowers for future use. I may include them in an external formula as they are noted for clearing the skin, diminishing wrinkles and used in the treatment of burns and minor skin aliments. Please do comment on your favorite uses or experiences of Elderflower.
~ All information contained within this blog is intended to educate, entertain and inspire only. If you have any specific health concerns, please visit your local herbalist or healthcare provider for the appropriate guidance and support ~
- Matthew Wood, The Book of Herbal Wisdom, 1997, 423
- Welby Smith, Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota, 567-568
- Michael Tierra, The Way of Herbs, 1980 pg 133
- David Hoffman, The Herbal Handbook, pg 27