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  • Writer's pictureAnna

Sambucus nigra: a potent remedy for colds + much more

If you want to avoid the sniffles this winter or cut short a cold you may already have, look no further than Sambucus nigra, aka elder. Syrups made from elderberries are a traditional and effective remedy for coughs and flus.

But that's just the start of this herb's wonderful medicine. Overall I feel that she is such a “mother plant” in terms of nurturing the life force of other beings. Her flowers in particular for me feel like they have an affinity to sexual energy – their smell and taste suggest the muskiness of mating. Even her leaves are healing! Here is a short overview of her gifts to the human community:

Traditional and current uses

· Flowers as tea for respiratory problems – from coughs and colds to hay fever, sinusitis

· Flowers also for ear infections and candida

· Teas or tinctures made with the flowers are helpful for anxiety

· Berries for immune support as well as for flus and colds

· Berries for digestive issues ranging from constipation to diarrhea

· Leaves for bruises and sprains

In folklore and literature

Elder trees are widely associated with the Otherworld in the folklore of Ireland, Britain and Europe. There is a theory that the name elder comes from the Icelandic “huldafolk” meaning fairy people. But it seems the more common or widely accepted theory is that the name comes from ‘aeld’, the old word for fire, which would resonate with the use of hollow elder branches to carry fire. The German word ‘Holunder’ apparently refers to a goddess known as ‘Hylde Moer’ (hidden mother) to whom the elder was sacred. Elders were considered to be inhabited by a tree spirit who would offer her blessing if treated kindly. “Elder’s reputation to offer protection against evil spirits seems to be ubiquitous and can be found from Russia to Romania and from Sicily to Scotland,” according to this article on the website

Conversely the elder spirit would (naturally) take umbrage if any parts of the tree were taken without thanks or reverence. Another near-universal taboo in Europe concerns cutting down elder trees or burning their wood.

My experiences with elder

In the spring of 2020 I spent a lot of time with elder trees in the parks of Prague. There is something very comforting about being in their presence; calming but also a kind of higher vibration. I am very grateful to the elders I have met, for all of their medicine — not just the flowers and berries themselves but for their beauty of their whole being.

I wrote a poem to try to express this:

Like a bride in spring

or a mermaid

hung with the lace

of her transformations,

singing between the worlds

of wind-scoured cliff and

current-lapped cradle

by late summer

she’s become a grand lady

adorned with jewels

dusky as blood

dangling sustenance

for the generations

her black-beaded answers

feed probing beaks and probosces

if you stop long enough

in her shade

to caress the curve of her

sinuous trunk

you’ll learn in every season

she is a dancer

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