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Elder and better

PUBLISHED: 10:48 23 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:24 20 February 2013

Elder and better

Elder and better

Known as the 'country people's medicine chest,' the elder's flowers, bark and berries have many uses, as herb expert Ed Berger explains

Known as the country peoples medicine chest, the elders flowers, bark and berries have many uses, as herb expert Ed Berger explains

At the beginning of June the Suffolk hedgerows fill with fragrant, flat topped masses of white elderflowers. According to tradition their arrival marks the true start of summer and then the appearance of drooping bunches of black elderberries in late August signals the summers end.
The name elder comes from Anglo Saxon aeld meaning fire. This name originates from the tradition of removing the pithy core from elder stems to produce a blowpipe for kindling fires. Hollowed elder stems were also used to make simple flutes, hence another name pipe tree. Few native trees are so steeped in superstition and folklore. For instance, it is said that the cross of Calvary was made from elder wood and old country lore forbids the felling of elder trees without first asking permission of Hylde-Moer or Mother Elder, who allegedly gives her consent by silence.

Medicinal use

Elders healing effects were described by the Greek physician Hippocrates in 400BC and it has been called the medicine chest of country people. The 17th century English scholar John Evelyn wrote: If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countrymen could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy from every hedge. Indeed there are few trees with so many uses, its flowers, berries, leaves and bark all possessing different medicinal properties.
Elderflowers are one of our most important herbal remedies for hay-fever and allergies, helping to reduce symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing and sore eyes. The flowers contain essential oil, tannins and flavonoids which have a mild anti-histamine effect, but do not expect immediate relief, ideally they should be taken for a month prior to the start of the hay-fever season and throughout the high pollen months.
Elderberries are packed with chemicals which are responsible for the berrys deep purple colour and which have antiviral properties for preventing and treating colds and flus. Elder is a perfect example of the healing wisdom of nature, producing its flowers in time for the hay-fever season and its berries ready for treating autumn infections.


Elderflowers are gathered in early June, and dried carefully on paper in a well ventilated room. After a week or two, the flowers easily fall from the stems and are stored in a paper bag or jar out of direct sunlight.


Make an infusion by steeping one heaped teaspoon of dried flowers in a cup of just boiled water for 10 minutes and drink three cups daily. Alternatively drink three glasses of diluted elderflower cordial daily.

Ed Berger has been practicing herbal medicine for 12 years and lives in Suffolk. He is course director of herbal medicine for a leading complementary heath college and is a keen plantsman, growing many medicinal herbs in his woodland garden. To discuss any aspect of herbal medicine including herb walks, herbal garden design or to arrange a consultation please contact Ed on 07931 797148 or

Elderflower Cordial

This recipe is full of flavour and delightfully refreshing on a hot summers day.

You will need:
2 pints (1.4 litres) cold water
20 large heads of elderflower
2 lemons
50 grams citric acid (available from chemists)
1 kilo granulated sugar
3 sterilised glass bottles with lids
Muslin for straining

1 Pick elderflower heads in full flower but before they start to brown. Remove the main green stalks, rinse briskly under cold water and dry lightly with kitchen towel.
2 Bring the water to the boil in a large pan, add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
3 Add the citric acid and the roughly chopped lemons, bring back to the boil.
4 Add the elderflowers, gently bring back to JUST boiling point and remove from heat (IMPORTANT the elderflowers should not be boiled).
5 Cover and leave the pan in a cool place for 24 hours.
6 Sterilise bottles and lids by placing them in a pre heated oven at 100 degrees for 15 minutes.
7 Pour the mixture through a scalded muslin cloth into a large bowl or measuring jug to remove the lemons and flowers, then funnel the strained juice into the sterilised bottles.
The cordial will last for over a year if stored in a cool dark place.


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