By Maria Price
With all the recent rain events we’ve had, the elder bushes have responded with a glorious amount of beautiful white flowers. Elder has been called “the medicine chest for the common people”. In this era of COVID, it’s good to know about a native medicine tree that grows for free right in our backyards.
Sambucus canadensis, or elder, is a large shrub or small tree that can grow to 20 feet with coarse gray, furrowed bark. It features pinnate compound leaves arranged in opposite pairs with white star-shaped flowers that grow in clusters 4 to 10 inches wide in late spring. The drooping berries (elderberry) are produced in the fall. It likes to grow in moist woodlands, thickets, fence rows and wetlands. It can be cut to the ground in late winter to keep the shrub healthy and smaller. Grow elder in well-drained moist soil in full sun.
Elderberries are well known as the main ingredient in a syrup used to stimulate the immune system and prevent viruses from taking hold. According to The Herbal Apothecary, “The elder flowers are supportive to the respiratory system, with its ability to open the body, induce mild sweating, reduce fever” and dissolve phlegm.
“Elderflower is indicated for any catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract such as hay fever or sinusitis. Catarrhal deafness responds well to elderflower. Elderberry has properties similar to those of the flower, with the addition of effectiveness in rheumatism,” writes David Hoffman in Medical Herbalism.
Sambucus appears to strengthen cell membranes to prevent virus penetration, possibly by inhibiting the viral enzyme that weakens the membrane.
To make an infusion or tea of elderflowers pour one cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of dried or fresh blossoms and infuse for 10 minutes. Drink hot three times a day. Throughout England, a common drink is elderflower and rose lemonade. Find it right next to sodas and other beverages in local natural food stores.
Another thing to do with elderflowers is to make elderflower fritters—a heavenly delight. First, identify your bush correctly. Collect about 20 elderflowers with the main stems removed. Mix 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and baking powder, 1/2 cup of sugar, one egg beaten and 1 1/2 cups milk. Beat until smooth. Dip each elder cluster into the batter. Drop into sizzling oil and cook until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with sugar.