The flowers: dried for tea, extracted in tincture, made into wine, syrups, cordials, fritters, champagne and jelly.
The berries: dried for tea, extracted in tincture, made into syrups, wines, cordials, champagne and jelly.
Note: the leaves, stems, bark and berries contain small amounts of cyanide. In order to use the berries they must be dried or cooked to negate this. Red elderberries should not be used as they contain higher amounts of cyanide.
Season To Harvest
Flowers - Summer
Berries - Autumn (late August/September)
Flowers: can be removed from the base of the flower cluster stalk. Only remove a few clusters from a tree, so that the flowers can turn into berries later in the year. Insects also use elder flowers for food. Only use the flowers, discard stems.
Berries: should be fully ripe before harvesting. Separate the berries from the stems before using. Dry or cook berries before consuming. Do not consume raw.
Energetically, elder is cool, pungent, slightly astringent and slightly sweet.
Elder is an immune tonic, immune stimulant, and an exceptional ally during colds, flu, and respiratory infections due to her diaphoretic, immune boosting and antiviral actions.
Elder is super high in vit C especially if harvested after the first frost and can be taken continuously all winter, or as an immune boost when illness strikes.
The flowers are possibly best known for helping to break a fever. They do this by raising the body temperature quickly so that the body can fight the illness faster, thus breaking the fever faster. (The body can produce more pathogen fighting white blood cells when the temperature is raised.) This is known as a diaphoretic.
The flowers are also soothing to the nervous system, anti-inflammatory and help with ailments to do with congestion of the respiratory system. The flowers are both an anti-catarrhal (removes excess mucus from the lungs) and an expectorant (breaks up mucus in the lungs and helps expel it) making them a great ally against colds and flus.
Due to the amount of pollen on the flowers and their decongesting effects, elderflowers are a great one to use to build up immunity against sinus allergies like hay fever.
Fresh leaves can be used externally as a poultice or an oil infusion for bruises, sprains, and wounds as they are vulnerary (tissue healing) and astringent (toning).
Magic & Folklore
In British folklore it is believed that the 'elder mother' spirit or a spirit of a deceased witch lives inside and watches over the tree. For this reason it is wise to ask permission before taking any wood to avoid the wrath of an angered spirit, and it is deemed as disrespectful to burn elder wood for a fire. Elder is sometimes referred to as the 'witches tree' as some witches could turn into elder at will.
In Ireland, witches would use elder for their broomsticks, and wreaths of elder were worn at Samhain as it said to enhance your connection to the spirit world.
Known throughout different cultures as a great protector, elder trees were often planted out the front of houses for protection or hung on doors to ward off evil. It is said you should leave a lucky self-sewn elder to grow as the spirit inside will protect your land and home. It may also bring prosperity.
A popular myth in Denmark about the tree states that sitting under the tree at midsummer would enable you to see the fearies going to their midsummer feast. The danger here is that the scent of the flowers would put you to sleep and transport you into the feary realm without knowing how to return.
Love Em xx
Disclaimer - this is from my personal research. I cannot encourage the use of any medicinal plant without seeking medical advice first.