The health benefits of elderberry and elderflower are distinct from one another. Learn how you can get the best health benefits of elderberry and elderflower and receive easy-to-make recipes for elderflower tea, elderberry syrup, and elderberry tea.
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Elderberries and elderflowers come from the same plant, but when it
comes to herbal medicine they have some different gifts and uses. In
this video I’ll show you the differences between the two and how you can
get the best results from them both.
Hello! I’m Rosalee de la Forêt, herbalist, teacher and bestselling herbal author. I’m here to share trusted herbal knowledge so that you can get the best results when using herbs for your health.
Okay, let’s dive in. To best explain the differences between elderberries and elderflowers, let’s back up and take a look at them both separately.
In fact, let’s take a step back and first look at the elder shrub!
Elder shrubs grow in temperate climates and there’s several different
species that are used similarly. There are blue and black elders like Sambucus nigra, S. canadensis.
And there’s my local species, which is common in western N. America, Sambucus cerulea.
There’s also red elder, Sambucus racemosa, but it is not worked with in the same way as blue and black elders.
Where I live elderflowers often bloom around or just after the summer solstice and the berries ripen a couple months later.
Humans aren’t the only ones to love elders! The berries are eaten by many birds and mammals. Which is a mutually beneficial relationship as this helps to spread new elder plants throughout the ecosystem.
You can find elder shrubs growing along trailsides as well as in the city. I was so delighted when I found elder shrubs growing around the Eiffel tower in Paris.
Now that we’ve gotten to know the whole plant a bit, let’s take a closer look at elderflowers.
Elderflowers grow in flat clusters filled with numerous white or cream
colored flowers. A mature elder shrub will often have lots of clusters.
These flowers have a sweet and musty smell.
Elderflowers are especially high in antioxidants and including them in your life can help modulate excess and chronic inflammation. Even inflammation that happens in your mouth.
In vitro studies have shown elderflower tea used as a mouthwash to be an effective anti-inflammatory against periodontal pathogens like gingivitis.1
Some people also like to reach for elderflowers at the very beginning stages of a cold or flu. Herbalist Maude Grieve wrote in the 1930s that elderflowers are an “almost infallible cure for an attack of influenza in its first stage.”
Recent research has shown that elderflowers have pectic polysaccharides which are known to beneficially modulate the immune system.2
Elderflowers are cherished for their ability to support the fever process. They don’t artificially lower your fever or stop your immune system, instead, they beneficially modulate the immune system and allow excess heat to escape through your capillaries which can stimulate a healthy fever sweat.
Reach for elderflower when someone has a fever, feels hot and is restless and uncomfortable. My favorite way to work with elderflower to support fevers is with a warm tea. I’ll share a recipe at the end of the video for my favorite blend.
The herbal term for herbs that release excess heat during a fever is called a relaxing diaphoretic. They often work by increasing peripheral circulation which helps you to cool down.
Herbalists often use relaxing diaphoretic herbs to support skin health. That same action of stimulating the capillaries to induce sweating during a fever can be called on to gently nourish and naturally detox your skin. Historically, people often used elderflowers as external preparations— as a tea wash or infused in oil for a cream or salve.
Elderflower washes or lotions can also soothe red and inflamed skin conditions, such as rashes and sunburn. Elderflower can also potentially protect your skin from sun damage. In vitro research has shown that topical elderflower preparations have the potential to deliver broad-spectrum UV protection.3
Elderflowers are also used against ear infections. They may be effective by soothing inflammation, addressing the infection, or stimulating the immune system.
Have you ever been inside a room for a long time and then opened a window or walked outside to get a breath of fresh air? This is what elderflower does for you. It clears out stagnations, cools, brightens, and freshens.
Okay, that’s a bit about the flowers.
Now let’s look at the many gifts of elderberries!
Like elderflowers, elderberries are filled with antioxidants.
Elderberries are both food and medicine. In fact, when I first learned
about elderberries it was simply as a delicious food and beverage. But,
they are a great example of food as medicine. By enjoying them regularly
you can help to modulate naturally occurring or even excess
Beyond food as medicine, I most commonly reach for elderberries to help my immune system during the initial stages of a cold or flu. When you feel that first tingle in your throat or a telltale sign of fatigue or chills, taking elderberry frequently can often stop the illness from progressing. It’s also taken preventively to ward off illness and can help shorten the duration of an illness.
Several studies have confirmed elderberry’s powerful abilities and given us some insight into how it works. One of the first studies was a human clinical trial that showed that 93.3 percent of people with flu symptoms who took elderberries saw a significant improvement within two days, while those taking a placebo did not see improvement until six days later.4
Another study followed 312 airline passengers flying overseas from Australia. Half were given an elderberry preparation and the other half got a placebo. Those taking the placebo had slightly more occurrences of a cold or flu during their trip than did those taking the elderberry.5
More significantly, those taking the elderberry who did get a cold reported a marked reduction of cold duration and severity compared with those taking the placebo. I always travel with a tincture of elderberry and echinacea and take it preventively throughout my travels.
Elderberry medicines include syrups, tinctures, and elixirs. When taking elderberries to address a cold or flu, I recommend using it at the very beginning stages in order to get the best results. It is also best to take it frequently throughout the day rather than consuming a large amount only once or twice a day.
When you take elderberry matters! A 2020 review across five clinical studies involving 936 adults showed that preparations of elderberry (S.nigra), when taken within 48 hours of the onset of acute respiratory viral infection, may reduce the duration and severity of common cold and influenza symptoms in adults.6
Elderberries can be eaten as food, so the dosage can be fairly high. But you need to prepare them well. Eating lots of raw berries can make you sick, but cooking or fermenting them renders them safe.
Okay, let’s summarize what’s been shared.
Both elderflowers and elderberries come from the elder shrub in the Sambucus genus.
Elderflowers modulate inflammation, are commonly used to promote skin health, and to address fevers. Some people like to turn to elderflowers at the very beginning signs of a cold or flu.
Elderberries also modulate inflammation and can be a great addition to your diet as food as medicine. They are also often used as medicine, especially as a preventive remedy at the onset of a cold or flu.
Okay! Well, as much as I love to share herbal information, I know the best way for you to experience herbs is by working with them yourself! With that in mind I have two classic elder recipes to share with you today.
The first recipe is a classic tea recipe for elderflowers. Versions of
this recipe have been used for hundreds of years within the western
herbal world. It combines the healing gifts of elderflowers with other
potent herbs like yarrow, peppermint and rose hips.
I reach for this tea at the first sign of a cold or flu, and especially if I am feeling hot and restless due to a fever.
If you’d like to write this recipe down you can pause the video or you can download the recipe cards that are found in a link within the video description.
The second recipe is another classic! Elderberry syrup is my favorite preparation for the first signs of a cold or flu. The syrup is easy to make yourself and will save you lots of money vs. buying the syrup at the store. For this recipe you can use fresh or dried elderberries.
As mentioned, to make things easier on you I’ve put together recipe cards you can download. They include Elderflower Tea, Elderberry Syrup and my favorite elderberry tea.
You can download the recipe cards using the link above.
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Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Heal and co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.