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Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

Elder Flower (Sambucus nigra) has many uses, medicinally & culinary.

As a medicine, this anti-catarrhal and anti-inflammatory herb is excellent for symptoms of colds and flu such as catarrh and fever. The diaphoretic action promotes gentle sweating and therefore helps reduce any fever. Elderflower is a drying herb, so it helps reduce the build-up of mucus. It also reduces inflammation in the lungs, which can lead to improved breathing. The flowers are best used in tea form to treat the early signs of a cold, mild fever, nasal congestion, sinusitis & hay fever.

For a refreshing, early summer tea, take two flowering heads & snip the flowers from the stalks into a mug or a small cafe tier. Add freshly boiled water & leave for 5 minutes before straining & drinking. This will make one cup of Elderflower tea which can be drunk up to 3 x daily. Some people feel a little nauseous from Elderflower tea, if this is a problem for you, a thin slice of fresh ginger root will prevent this happening.

For the early signs of a common cold you can combine elderflower (two to three heads) with a handful of Peppermint leaves & three thin slices of fresh Ginger root. Do the same as above. This tea will have a stronger diaphoretic effect, opening the pores & stimulating a mild sweat which will help to rid your body of the pathogen. If you have a sore throat, you can also safely add a handful of Honeysuckle flowers. Sweeten with a little honey if need be.

With Hay fever, this herb is specific for treating allergic inflammation of the mucous membranes. You can drink a cup of Elder flower tea in an acute stage of hay fever where you have symptoms of itchy, irritated, red eyes, runny nose & sneezing attacks. It usually brings quite rapid relief, perhaps a little short lived for some but it is a good aid to know about. It is recommended, for severe or chronic sufferers of hay fever, to start drinking Elderflower tea in about March a couple of times daily. This encourages the body to create a protective lining over mucus membranes of the nose & throat which are affected by pollens. To do this you would need to have dried Elderflowers in store which you can get from most herb suppliers. Baldwins is very good online or you can collect your own & dry them to use for up to a year.

To collect & dry Elderflowers it is best to pick them just before they open. I tend to zig zag a washing line through a shed or a loft space & place the flowers on the line. Once dried, I rub the flowers from the stalks (discarding the stalks) & store them in brown paper envelopes. This is better than in jars as they are less likely to become mouldy if they are still a little moist & not fully dried.

For sinusitis they are best combined with Broad Leaf Plantain (Plantago major) or Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) which you will find in your lawns & local hedgerows. These two herbs are very safe to use & are great at removing inflammation & congestion in the nose/lungs also reducing the pressure associated with the condition.

We all know about Elderflower cordial & there are many recipes online. You will also find recipes for Elderflower jellies, cakes, fritters, gin, biscuits, puddings, marshmallows & more. One of my favourites is to place a fully open flowering heads into pancakes as you cook them. Place the flowers into the batter as the other side is frying in the pan, snip the stalks off, turn your pancake & when you eat it, sprinkle it with sugar or maple syrup. The whole pancake will taste of Elderflower!

Elderflower has been used traditionally for beauty, much like rose water, cooled Elderflower tea can be used as a facial wash or compress to soothe the skin & eyes, remove inflammation & brighten the complexion. I make an Elderflower & Lime flower (Linden tree) beauty/anti-ageing balm which is available online via Gwen’s Garden. It has the gentle aroma of Elderflowers & softens & nourishes the skin, reducing fine lines. It makes your skin feel lovely!

Please be aware when you collect Elderflowers that there may be another two people behind you doing the same. To protect our local wildlife, a good rule of thumb is to never remove more than 10% of the flowers from one bush. I have seen areas here in West Sussex where not a single flower has been left on quite a vast area of countryside. This of course means no berries in autumn & less food for local creatures.

Please note, the leaves, bark & too much of the stalks can have a strong laxative effect.

If you are interested in joining one of my local herb walks, the dates can be found at

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