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Plant Family: 



Habitat & Cultivation: 

European elder is a plant native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Western-and Central Asia. Naturalized in North America. Prefers moist, sunny forest habitats/open areas. Dominant understory in riparian woodlands. Common along stream/river banks. Mountain Rose Herbs sources their elderberries from Albania.


Parts Used/Collection: 

Flowers & Berries

Sambucus nigra is the most commonly used Sambucus sp. in herbal medicine. Other species may be used therapeutically, but are not medically interchangeable with Sambucus nigra. I had a challenging time finding in the readings why Sambucus nigra was the preferred species, but I believe it has something to do with the concentration and types of polyphenols present. Inflorescences - flowers May-Sept; 4-20 cm across, flat-topped, white-cream color, pleasant-rancid odor. Fruit - July - Oct; berry-like, blue-purple black. Sambucus genera have been used traditionally in the treatment of many diseases and physical ailments, like influenza, the common cold, and sinusitis. 


Herbal Actions: 

  • Berry-

    • anticatarrahal

    • antioxidative

    • antiviral

    • antiinflammatory

    • antibacterial

    • antiproliferative

    • diaphoretic

    • diuretic

    • laxative

  • Flower-

    • diaphoretic

    • anticatarrhal

    • antispasmodic

  • Leaf-

    • diaphoretic

    • diuretic

    • emollient

    • vulnerary

    • expectorant




Influenza, common cold, sinusitis, low immunity




None known for flower (Mills and Bone, 2005). Nontoxic, but leaves/stems/bark/roots/flower/unripe fruit contain cyogenic glycosides which can cause n/v and diarrhea when immature plants or high quantities of fruit consumed; majority of Sambucus nigra consumed is processed - heating process changes cyogenic glycosides to be less poisonous (Sidor & Gramza-Michalowska, 2015).


Plant Constituents: 


  • Flavonoids

  • Tannins

  • Mucilage

  • Volatile oil 

  • Sterols


System Affinities:

  • Immune

  • Respiratory

  • Integumentary

  • Gastrointestinal

  • Urinary





Cooling, drying




According to Hoffmann, there are no safety issues, side effects, or drug interactions surrounding Sambucus nigra and it is safe for pregnancy and lactation (Hoffmann, 2003). Consuming raw berries can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting.


Personal Experience:


Each winter I make elderberry syrup for my family, it is a decoction with elderberry, cinnamon, ginger and honey to fight the cold and flu season. 



ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. New York, NY: American Botanical Council.


Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism. Healing Arts Press: Vermont.


Mountain Rose Herbs. (2018). Elder berries. Retrieved from:

Romm, A. (2010). Botanical medicine for women's health (p.18-19). St. Louis, Mo: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.





Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

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