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Elder Herb (Sambucus Nigra)

The "elder" described here is black elder (Sambucus nigra) and should not be confused with three other "elders," Sambucus canadensis, Sambucus racemosa and Sambucus ebulus, all of which are different herbs, are used less frequently by herbalists, and each containing different properties.

Black elder is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 46 m (rarely to 10 m) tall. The flowers are white, and the fruit a dark purple to black berry, produced in drooping clusters in the late autumn.

Internally, both the bark of young branches and the root (the inner bark which is used) are purgative and diuretic in proper dosage. In large doses they are emetic, strongly purgative, and can cause inflammation in the gastro-intestinal tract.

Elder flowers taken warm induce sweating. They are used in the first stages of colds and flues. Combine equal parts of the flowers with peppermint, to make a tea (1 oz. per pint of water) and drink as hot as possible. Take the tea in bed or just before taking a hot bath; and then sweat out the cold or flu during sleep.

For cases of neuralgia, sciatica, or lumbago, follow a juice cure regimen, taking about 2 tbsp. warm or cold juice 2 times a day until results are obtained.

Externally, elder flowers are also used in salves for the treatment of burns, rashes, and minor and serious skin ailments, as well as hemorrhoids, sprains, and wounds.

Warning: Only use black elder bark and root which has been grown in Europe. The bark and root in North America contain larger amounts of both hydrocyanic acid and sambuline, a nauseating alkaloid also found in fresh paint. The stems of the plant should always be avoided since they contain cyanide and can be very toxic. North American black elder flowers appear safe, but other parts may cause a toxic reaction. Do not use any part of the elder herb during pregnancy. All parts of the fresh plant can cause poisoning. Fresh juice will cause vomiting and diarrhea. Children have been poisoned by chewing or sucking on the bark. Cooked berries are safe and are commonly used in pies and jam.

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