Elder flowers come from the same plant as elder berries and, like the berries, contain bioflavonoids. Elder flowers are used in teas, skin care salves, lotions and washes, cosmetics, and to make a soothing gargle.
Botanical name: Sambucus nigra L.
Botanical Family: Caprrifoliaceae
Common name: European elder
Synonyms: black elder, common elder, flor de sayugo (Spanish)
The Plant: Elder is a tall shrub, native throughout Europe, Asia and northern Africa. European elder is naturalized in North America and grows in moist, partly shady stream banks and at edges of woods. Other native species of elder — western elder (S. caerulea) and North American sweet elder (S. Canadensis) — are used as substitutes for European elder. Another North American native elder, a red-berried species called S. racemosa, is not used and should be avoided because of its toxicity.
The faint scent of the sweet-smelling elder flowers is a harbinger of the beginning of summer in our area. These small white flowers are arranged in flattened umbels, called a cyme. Elder flowers are best harvested just as they open. The whole flower head is dried after harvesting, which helps prevent bruising of the delicate flowers and allows for better air circulation and faster drying.
Elder flower’s green fruits turn a deep purple-black when ripe.
Constituents of Note: Elder flowers contain a small amount of essential oil (0.3 to 0.1%), about two-thirds of which is free fatty acids; this gives the oil a somewhat buttery consistency. Elder flowers also contain around 1% triterpenes (alpha-amyrin, beta-amyrin), 1.5% flavonoids (quercetin, kempferol, rutin), several triterpene acids (urolic, oleanolic), chlorogenic acid (3%), tannins and mucilage.
Quality: Elder flowers are cream to pale yellow. Discolored flowers may be present in small amounts. The aroma of dried elder flowers is faint, sweet, and floral, and the flavor is a bit sweet and bitter, with a lightly mucilaginous mouth feel. Some small stem pieces may be present.
Regulatory Status: GRAS (Title182.20) as a flavoring and Dietary Supplement
Did you know? Elder was known as “the medicine chest of the country people” in England because of its many uses and the fact that all parts of the plant (leaves, flowers, fruits, roots and bark) were used. Because of the toxic constituents they contain, the leaves, root and bark are not used much today and only by those with the expertise to do so.