The flowers: dried for tea, extracted in tincture, made into wine, cordials, champagne and jelly.
The berries: dried for tea, extracted in tincture, made into syrup, wine, cordials, champagne and jelly. Slightly toxic if raw.
The leaves: dried for tea
The bark: used for its purgative, emetic and duiretic actions but toxic if prepared wrong
Season To Harvest
Flowers - Summer
Berries - Autumn (late August/September)
Berries: vitamin C, anthocyanins, flavonoids.
Flowers: mucilage, flavonoids, volatile oil, quercetin, free fatty acids, triterpenes, phenolic acid, minerals, sterols, sugars, tannins.
Leaves: Cyanogenic glycosides.
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 flowers for food.
Berries: should be fully ripe before harvesting. Separate the berries from the stems before using. Stems, unripe and uncooked berries are slightly toxic and can cause nausea and an upset belly. Heat berries to get rid of cyanogenic glycosides present in the berry before consuming. A few raw berries may be fine.
Elder bark, leaves, roots, seeds: contain alkaloids and cyanogenic glycosides, which may cause nausea and vomiting.
Note that the red elder (Sambucus racemosa), which is a different species, contains higher levels of cyanogenic glycosides than the black elder.
Energetically, elder is cool, pungent, slightly astringent and slightly sweet.
Berry: exceptional allies during colds, flu, and respiratory infections due to their diaphoretic, immune boosting and antiviral actions. High in vit C.
Flower: anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal and expectorant. Helps in cases of colds, sinusitis and sinus allergies like hayfever. Helpful for colds and flu's as also antiviral. Also supports the nervous system in times of stress as is soothing for nerves, anxiety, and depression.
Leaves: fresh leaves are used externally as a poultice or an oil infusion for bruises, sprains, and wounds as they are vulnerary (tissue healing) and astringent (toning).
The elder is known as the 'witches tree' and it is said that witches could turn themselves into elder trees and they often used its wood for the making of broomsticks and wands. Others say the spirits of deceased witches occupy elder. For this reason it is wise to ask permission of an elder tree before you cut it and it is deemed as disrespectful to use it's wood for a fire.
Elder trees are planted out the front of houses for protection and a lucky self-sewn elder should be left to grow. It may be a witch protecting your land.
Another lore about the tree states that sitting under the tree at midsummer would enable you to see the fearies. Perhaps even see them going to their midsummer feast. The danger here is of falling asleep under the tree and being transported into their realm without knowing how to return.
Elder is certainly associated with a spirit or spirit beings, and all of the stories give her a feminine energy.