Black Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Origin, botanical description

This 6 m high shrub in the family Caprifoliaceae is native to Europe and Asia, also widespread in our country. The elder branches change to coarse grey with furrowing. The elliptical leaves are arranged in opposite pairs and have serrated margins. The flowers are born in flat corymbs with a diameter of 15-25 cm, having 5 main petals. Some flowers are very small not growing over 6 mm. The fruit is a glossy black berry.

The black elder might not be confused with the lower danewort or dwarf elderberry (Sambucus ebulus), which has smelly flowers with dark purple stamens. The latter is not a medicinal plant.

Active agents

The flower contains flavonoids, a bit of volatile oil, saponins and mucilage.

The color of the berry is due to the substances with phenol content (for instance cyanidin).


The black elder was known and used already in the ancient times (by Hippocrates and Galenos). The latter has recommended elder for catarrhal colds and irritations of the mucous membrane. There are lots of legends about black elder: it is a symbol of the witches, the magic wand is made of elder tree. Another legend says that on elder trees live fairies and we need to sing under the blooming tree so that the fairies have plenty of time to escape. The elder tree was never cut out, since it protects our home from the evil spirits, but it was never used for a cradle, because it would not leave the baby growing. According to the German legends the magic flute was made of elder tree.

In the Hungarian traditional medicine it is the mostly used medicinal plant next to the chamomile. Gipsy women used every part of the tree for healing: flower, fruits, leaves, bark and roots.


Pick the jonquil flowers with pleasant smell with a short stem in May and June, when the sides of the umbrella start blooming. Dry them on dry and warm place, otherwise it will get brown and loses active substances. From 6-7 kg fresh flowers we will get 1 kg dry drug. When it get dried, pick the flowers from the stem and use them for medicinal tea. The fruits are dark berries with currative power. The latter can be collected at the end of the summer, in August or September.

Curative effects

The elderflower tea is a well-known diuretic with digestive and cough relief effects. In case of a cold or bronchitis it can be used as a sudorific and it stimulates the immune system. The fresh elder sprout and flower is a strong laxative. It is also used for blood purification, earache or huskiness. The elderberry is a sudorific, in a large quantity works as laxative but it is also recommended as a remedy for oedema and rheumatism.  Its fresh juice or the jelly made of the berries is a proved remedy for tuberculosis. The bark of the elder tree has expelling effects, works as a vermifuge. It is a diuretic, used for kidney inflammation and recommended for oedema.

The leaves are diuretic and laxative, relief for rheumatic pain. It is also used against fever. In case of populous fever (rubeola, scarlat) and rheumatic fever, as well as in case of catarrhal infection (bronchitis, flue) it can be used as an effective sudorific. It is rarely recommended for oral use. It is mostly used for bleeding and flash burn.


Medicinal tea: in case of a cold drink 2-3 cups of very hot elder tea daily. It is even more efficient if you drink elder tea while taking a footbath, then go to bed.  This way you „sweat” the cold, detoxify your organism and quicken the healing.

In case of stuffy nose, cough elder is ideal for inhalation, since it clears well the respiratory tract and works as a good expectorant.

One cup of elder tea in the morning has diuretic effect.

Elder tea is also used in order to lose weight. Drink 5 cups of tea daily for a whole month or until you reach the weight wanted.

It is one component of cough syrups made of: elderberry, plantain, blackcurrant, liquorice, anise, candy, honey and a little bit of salmiac.

External use: Thanks to its sedative effect it can be used as a compress in case of pleurisy, hematoma, gout, frost-bite, psoriasis and eczema. Use it as a wash lotion for ophtalmia and stye.