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The Benefits of the Elders

Often an indication of the benefits of a plant is how well all things love it. Humans, birds, deer, and many other creatures indulge in the benefits that the elder provides us. The deer love the tiny leaves and our fair-feathered friends sit in inconspicuous places eyeballing the white cluster of flowers as they mature into berries. They eat the illustrious elderberry quicker than one can pick them.

Adequately named as “elder”, it serves well in the center of the garden, reminding us through it’s cyclic nature to embrace the cycles of our own lives. One of the few allies that can be enjoyed in multiple seasons. The white, lacy cluster of elderflowers in the spring, the small tart bunches of elderberries in the summer and even the bark in the fall can provide medicinal support. In winter, she takes her rest only to fuel up to aid us again in the spring.

Botanically known as Sambucus nigra, she is often considered a good luck charm and protector of the garden. Sambucus nigra, is fairly easy to grow, best propagated through cuttings. It’s considered a large shrub and requires a good amount of space. Its origins are traced to Europe, but it has been widely cultivated in many other areas, including the US. She is a beauty to behold in natural habitat and can be quite invasive.

The elder pledges to assist us with a variety of issues. She has gained popularity of late in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and has proven to be a consistent go to when fighting colds, the flu and viruses. The additional beauty of it is its general safety; there are little contraindications for the elder.

We utilize it so much in fighting the cold and flu-like viruses, that we often forget the additional benefits the elder provides. Some of its properties are antioxidant, antiviral, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, and immune stimulating. It can assist with asthma, nervous conditions, inflammation, rheumatism, diabetes, infections and constipations.

Elder is used in a variety of ways. The tiny white flowers are tasty in teas and elderflower cocktails. The berries are known for creating delicious syrups, wines, jams, and teas. The bark has been used in decoctions as a digestive aid. Deer love the tiny leaves, but they have yet to reveal to me why.

“Elderberry’s yearly evolution teaches you to dance with the closely twined cycles of life, death and rebirth. Wherever you are in life, she reminds you that acceptance of life’s cyclicality is the key to earning your spot at the garden’s center.” The Illustrated Herbiary, Maia Toll


Lee, Michelle E. (2014). Working the Roots, Over 400 Years of Traditional African American Healing. Wadastick Publishers.

Toll, Mia. (2018). The Illustrated Herbiary Guidance and Rituals from 36 Bewitching Botanicals. Storey Publishing.

Gladstar, Rosemary (2012). Rosemary Gladstar’s medicinal herbs: a beginner’s guide. Storey Publishing.


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