Flowers and berries in modern herbal medicine: Elderberry

Growing, Healthy activities, Healthy Food, Organic Herbs and Teas

Materia Medica: Elder

Common names: Elderberry

Latin name: Sambucus nigra var. canadensis

Parts used: Flowers and berries in modern herbal medicine, all parts historically.

Action: The flowers are a wonderful diaphoretic! Fevers are the body’s way of fighting off infections, so we don’t always want to lessen a fever, unless it’s either too high or has been going on too long. For a fever they’re beautiful in a tea or even in the bath, but tinctures will work well too.



Elderberries are antiviral and are an immunomodulator, which means they help the body balance to whatever level of action the immune system needs to fight infections. The berries make a lovely tincture, syrup, or elixir (combination of the two!) to prevent infections, and when taken during acute infections can lessen the infection’s severity. You can dry the berries too and add them to teas, they’re in our Heart Chakra blend, as well as the Everyday Wellness!

Elderberry plant

Elderberry plant

Once you can identify elder, and are aware of its healing properties, you’ll see it everywhere! Highway ditches, roadside creeks, your backyard! It’s a shrub and not a tree, and if you see one in the wild you’ll probably see 50! It prefers wet feet, which is easy to get in rainy Florida, and as of the last few years has taken to flowering almost year round! We’re lucky to have an elder shrub growing in the Dandelion garden and it is one of the happiest cultivated elders around! Tall, prolific flowers and berries, and keeps both its neighboring human and bird population very happy (the birds eat the berries too!).

I love to use elder daily in the wintertime, when everyone around me is full of cooties. It makes a beautiful and delicious preventative drink, and is was from inspiration from the elder that created the Everyday Wellness herbal tea blend at Dandelion!

Elder really is a pharmacy within a plant, and a tasty one too! Please enjoy these links to learn more about elder from some brilliant teachers:

Kiva Rose’s elder monograph

Rosemary Gladstar’s Garden Wisdoms: Elder Medicine

Jim McDonald’s Elder monograph

Eat The Weeds: Elderberries: Red, White, and Blue

Kitchen Medicine: Garlic

Organic Herbs and Teas
Common name: Garlic
Latin name: Allium sativum
Parts used: bulb
Actions: antibacterial, antifungal, great cardiovascular tonic, helps fight yeast infections, wonderful as a prevention and treatment of colds & flus.

Kitchen medicine is possibly my favorite part about practicing herbalism, because you’re using tools that almost everyone has in their pantry and making some beautiful medicine with those everyday items. Today I made a garlic syrup using honey. This is useful for sore throats, a daily immunity boost, and as an exquisite addition to dishes (I poured a little on some tamales today! Unconventional, but delicious!).

I decocted 1/4c (one full head) chopped garlic in 1.25 cups of water, and let it cook down to about half its volume. To that I added an equal part honey, which ended up being too much honey, so I threw the garlic BACK into the decoction + honey and kept it on the warm burner for about 20 more minutes. Not usually what I’d recommend for people to emulate, but it made a really really delicious & strong syrup! Traditional syrup recipes look more like this, but if you end up doing what I did it’ll be just fine. You can also just very lowly simmer garlic and honey together and skip the decoction altogether.


Bio: Nina DiCristina is an herbalist in Orlando, Florida. She’s been studying the plants since 2008 and formally with the guidance of herbalist Emily Ruff at the Florida School of Holistic Living since 2011. She’s also been fortunate enough to study with Rosemary Gladstar, and  Guido Masé. She loves the daily communion with the plants and the joy they bring to those who know them. She writes at, can be found pouring the tea at beloved Dandelion Communitea Cafe, teaching at the Florida School of Holistic Living, and enthusiastically assisting at the annual Florida Herbal Conference.