Herb Blurb
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • May 2010

European elder: Sambucus nigra

European elder is a tree native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, and it also grows in the United States. There are several different types of elder, such as American elder, but European elder is the type most often used as a supplement.

Parts of the elder tree, such as the berries and flowers, have long been used for pain, swelling, infections, coughs, and skin conditions. Today, elderberry and elder flower are used for flu, colds, fevers, constipation and sinus infections.

The dried flowers (elder flower) and the cooked blue/black berries (elderberry) of the European elder tree are used in teas, liquid extracts, and capsules.

Side effects and cautions

Uncooked or unripe elderberries are toxic and can cause nausea, vomiting, or severe diarrhea. Only the blue/black berries of elder are edible.

Because of elder flower’s possible diuretic effects, use caution if taking it with drugs that increase urination.

Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This helps to ensure coordinated and safe care.

Sources: Elderberry. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed on May 15, 2007.

Elderflower. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed on May 15, 2007.

Elder (Sambucus nigra L.) Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed on May 16, 2007.

Elder flower. In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000:103–105.

SOURCE: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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