Elderberry ~ Super Fruits

Certain flavors, like scents, can simply transport you.

Throughout the Werdenfelser region of Bavaria, elder bushes herald the arrival of summer with saucer-sized clusters of lacy white flowers.

It’s impossible to miss the plants, as they can be found in the centers of towns, as well as in surrounding meadows and pastures.

The umbels of tiny, five-petaled flowers produce a subtle but unmistakable scent.

When the berries begin to form several weeks later, the delicate white blossoms drift softly to the ground like snowflakes.

By early autumn, the shrubs are covered with heavy clusters of nutritious, black-purple berries.

The elder is by no means unique to Germany.

It is indigenous to broad stretches of the Northern Hemisphere, from North America, Europe and Asia, and into North Africa along the Mediterranean coast.

In North America, the native species is Sambucus canadensis, commonly called American elder; its European relative is S. nigra, known as European elder or black elder.

Although both have served as a medicine chest for millennia, you’ll find elder’s flavor reason enough to hunt down a shrub for making delicious treats with its berries and blossoms.

Don’t want to walk a country mile for your elder?

This shrub is easy to grow and gorgeous in the landscape.

Elder Medicine

The entire elder plant—flowers, bark, berries and leaves, has sustained generations as a source of food and medicine.

Archaeologists found elder seeds in a Neolithic dwelling in Switzerland and European villagers have planted the shrubs close to their homes for many centuries.

Here in North America, the plant was highly prized by native tribes, who ate the dried berries as a winter staple and used the twigs and fruit in basketry and the branches to make arrows and musical instruments.

Native Americans also used elder-flowers and berries to treat colds, joint pain, fever, skin problems and more.

The words that denote elder in various languages give clues to its long history and reputation.

The genus name Sambucus is derived from the Latin word sambuca, the name of a musical instrument, although just what kind of instrument is open to debate.

The English elder comes from an Anglo-Saxon word, aeld or eldrun, which means fire.

This association probably developed because the pith of elder stems was used as tinder to start fires.

The stems, with the pith removed, were good substitutes for straws, and were used to blow on the fire and encourage it to burn.

Fight Colds & Flu with Elderberry

All parts of the elder plant (S. nigra and S. canadensis)—roots, flowers, leaves and bark—have been used medicinally for millenia.

Modern research now supports the use of elder syrup as a treatment for coughs and colds.

According to the USDA, elderberries are exceptionally rich in vitamin-C and antioxidants, which enhance the immune system.

The flowers contain flavonoids and rutin, which also are known to improve immune function, especially in combination with vitamin-C.

In addition, laboratory studies have shown that elderberries also have significant anti-inflammatory and antiviral abilities.

In clinical trials, patients taking elderberry extract recovered from the flu earlier and had less severe symptoms, than patients in a control group.

When using elderberries for food or health, use only ripe black fruit; the red berries of a related species are poisonous.

Fight colds and flu with elderberry syrup for coughs, and elderberry extract to hasten the end of symptoms; try as a tincture or delicious alcohol-free glycerite.

Elderberry-Plum Sauce

This spicy sauce can be served hot or cold.

Use it as you would applesauce, it’s a delicious topping for poultry, pork, winter squash, ice cream or puddings.


• 1 lb. elderberries, rinsed and cleaned

• 1 lb. of plums, rinsed and pitted

• 1/2 c. water

• 1 oz. honey

• 1 stick cinnamon

• 2 cloves

• 1/2 oz. butter, browned

• 1 Tbs. cornstarch mixed with 2 Tbs. water


1. Put fruits in a medium-size pan, along with water, honey, cinnamon and cloves.

Bring gently to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until fruit is soft.

2. Melt butter in a saucepan and gently brown at a low temperature.

3. Put fruit through a food mill to remove most of the elderberry seeds. (Some seeds will remain.)

Return pureed fruit to pan, add butter and cornstarch mixture.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, then cook at a low temperature for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and serve or bottle and store in refrigerator.

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