Beloved Elder – Ally for Healing from the Flu and Much More

My first plant ally was the elder tree or, as I like to call her, my beloved elder. It was one month before I formally became a herbal-medicine apprentice, so this was before I knew that a plant ally is a plant or tree that you choose (and are chosen by) for a lifelong relationship. As your relationship with the plant grows and deepens, it becomes a special liaison for your communication with all the other plants, and you can call on it for any type of healing you need for yourself and others.

Every part of the elder tree is medicinal, but the flowers and berries are the most frequently used and safest parts to use internally. The leaves and bark are purgative, and I don’t recommend them for internal use. However, the fresh leaves may be used externally in a simple oil, salve, or liniment for bruises and sprains by steeping the green leaves in olive oil, lard, or rubbing alcohol for six weeks and then decanting them for use.


Elder blossoms are antiviral and can be used for head colds, for problems with skin, ears, eyes, or upper-respiratory tract, and as an anti-infective generally for any of those systems. I also like elder blossoms for healing the tummy if there is queasiness or nausea from post-nasal drip.

Easy Elder Flower Infusion

  • 1 cup dried elderflowers
  • ½ gallon water

Pour boiling water over the dried elder blossoms in a half-gallon glass jar. Cap it tightly and let it sit for about 2 hours. Strain out the herbs and squeeze them to get every drop of goodness. This infusion can be refrigerated and gently reheated on the stovetop. I often pour it into a stainless-steel thermos to drink throughout the day. You could also put it in a pitcher with ice if it is a hot summer day. This infusion is safe for anyone from infants to elders, and you don’t have to be sick to enjoy it.

Contemporary studies have focused substantially on the antiviral and immune-strengthening properties of elderberries. Original research in the 1980’s from Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem was the first to show that elderberries are more effective against flu than any known flu medication. I use the berries as an iron and vitamin-C tonic, and for colds, flu, and lower respiratory viral infections. I turn to elderberries for coughs and chest congestion, especially that kind that starts out as a head cold and then moves down into the chest. Elderberries can also be used to improve the flavor or less tasty infusions.

Easy Elderberry Infusion

  • 1 cup dried elderberries
  • ½ gallon water

Pour boiling water over the elderberries in a half-gallon jar. Cap it tightly and let it sit for a minimum of 8 hours. (I prefer a longer steeping time, about 12 hours.) Pour off the liquid, squeezing out the berries as much as you can between your hands, or wringing them out in a piece of cheesecloth. Refrigerate and/or reheat the infusion as described in the Easy Elder Flower Infusion recipe. Compost the berries.


11 thoughts on “Beloved Elder – Ally for Healing from the Flu and Much More

      1. The red elderberries here are slightly toxic if not cooked. I have not used them for anything because I have never found any. they are rare and only found up high. If I do find any, I would cook them of course. I am told that they are not as good as the blue ones, but I want to try them anyway. I have won second (never first) place in the Jam and Jelly Competition at the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival for the past few years with my blue elderberry jelly.

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      2. We usually leave the red elderberries alone since they do have a cyanide quality to them. Some claim that you do need to boil them first. Congratulations on your blue elderberry jelly! Our berry picking usually starts at the 8,000 ft. level and eventually wind up just about tree line. Bear’s become an issue.

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      3. True, the red elderberries are not good to eat and are toxic. I too would stick with the blue or black elderberries. I have a friend who just had to stick some of the red elderberries in her mouth and wound up in the hospital for a few days. Nah, the birds and wild critters can have them to their endless delight.

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      4. Online, I learned that some people use some types of red elderberries, but only after cooking them. However, they also say that the flavor is lacking, and not nearly as good as that of blue or black. Technically, the native blue elderberry can make one ill as well if not cooked, but no one eats enough of them. They do not taste very good fresh.

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      5. Foraging for berries is a tricky business. The seeds of the berries are what holds the amounts of cyanide. Knowing when the right time to pick them is key, but that is all up to Mother Nature. And, when they are ready, one competes with the wildlife {bears, elk, moose, etc.}, or sheep. Wild blueberries are about the same caliber as well. In a handful, some are nice and sweet, full of juice while the most part in that handful they are tart and nasty.

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      6. Foraging sounds funny for berries that ripen in such abundance. We just pick them as if they grew in the garden. That is why I want to plant some in the garden, so that I can cultivate them to improve production, and leave the wild ones to be wild and feed the doves. The blackberries can be rather dull sometimes, depending on the weather; and sometimes, the birds get them first. Those are very abundant too, in some places, and some sites make better berries than others.

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