I like winter, it’s a good time to retreat into oneself and listen to what the darkness has to teach but I am always happy when I can see signs life reappearing in the plants around me. This week I can smell and see that happening as the sap starts to slowly rise in many plants. One of the most useful and familiar of herbs is certainly showing those signs at the moment. Elder (Sambucus nigra, NL:Vlier) is thankfully so common that there is most likely a modest specimen growing quite close to where you live. Perhaps you use it wisely already or perhaps you would recognise its flowers or berries.
I remember a very resilient old Elder which hung over my family’s driveway as a child. We didn’t know how to work with Elder at that time but the local birds evidently did. Each year our car would become covered with staining purple droppings as the birds gorged themselves on its ripe berries. The shrub was severely pruned each year to limit the damage and each year it bounced back, absolutely thriving in the clay soil and sunshine.
Elder has so many uses in traditional medicine that it is really worth getting to know. I shall post in detail about Elder one day soon, when I feel spring’s energies flowing through my own veins again. Until then I wanted to share with you one remedy which I used a few weeks ago with success.
Elder (in winter) for fever.
Sambucus nigra is known, among other things, as a traditional fever remedy. It is effective at inducing perspiration which in turn lowers the bodies temperature yet is reputedly mild enough to be used for childhood fevers, when they are not extreme. Generally the flowers are used to treat fever and the berries to reduce the severity and longevity of cold and flu. Recently I felt a cold or flu creeping up on me and wanted to self treat with Elder however in late December neither fresh berries or flowers were available to me here in Amsterdam. A tea, using dried organic flowers from a healthfood shop, might have been an option but I wanted to experiment with a local Elder.
It is said that one should always ask permission of the Elder before harvesting from her so I sought out a strong Elder shrub in my nearby park and mentally asked to harvest enough material to treat myself. The bark and leaves of Elder also contain some of the fever reducing agents found in the flowers and berries.
I harvested a few healthy (and budding) young twigs and small branches (about 2 feet long in total and mostly second year growth).