What is Elderberry and What are its Benefits?
A Common Herb and Food Used as Medicine in Many Cultures
Historically, elderberry is highly valued as a medicinal herb and food in many cultures. The plant grows as a small tree or shrub and produces flowers, followed by berries. The fruit is a dark, glossy purple, which can be harvested in autumn, but varies by growing region. Interestingly, the unripe berries are mildly poisonous when unripe, but when ripe, are edible after cooking for jams and jellies, chutney, and difference sauces. Different cultivars of elderberries are planted for various purposes, particularly to use the sweet elderflowers to create wines and cordials. It is a pleasant addition to blends with a sumptuous flavor and elegant tannin structure.
Colloquially, there are many references to the elder plant dating back thousands of years. The bible makes several references to the berry, and Hans Christian Andersen mentions the tea in many fairy tales. The film Arsenic and Old Lace starring Cary Grant has a key plot line with arsenic-poisoned elderberry wine. Even modern references, such as Harry Potter, reference the Elderberry, for example the elder wand made of elderberry wood.
Traditional Benefits of Elderberry
Many practitioners of herbal medicine look to the elder tree as a pharmacy within itself. The flowers and berries are all applied in unique methods to promote wellness, whereas the shoots may be eaten and the leaves may be applied externally but the other constituents of the plant are actually toxic.
Elderberry has been used for millennia in folk remedies to aid in prevention and relief for fever and other symptoms of influenza. Clinical studies suggest that some elderberry extracts might reduce flu-like symptoms. The anthocyanidins in elderberries are thought to have immunomodulating effects and possibly anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects. Elderberry also contains a range of vitamins, including Vitamin A, C and potassium.
Taxomy and Growth of Elderberry
The scientific name for the elder plant is Sambucus nigra and is also called elder or European elder. The species was formerly a member of the Caprifoliaceae family, also referred to as the honeysuckle family, but was moved to the smaller Adoxaceae family upon more genetic study. The shrub grows in Europe, North Africa, West Asia, the USA, and even Patagonia.
The elder tree is a wonderful shrub for the environment, as their root systems are extremely dense, which prevent erosion. Riparian Zones, or areas along waterways, are important and necessary for many species to survive. Elder plants are able to provide root and wind-blocking structure to these areas and benefit many types of wildlife. The elder species are quite robust and provide stable wildlife habitat, especially bird populations.