(Sambucus nigra L.)
Elderberry, or elder, is a small tree or shrub belonging to the family Caprifoliaceae. It is native to Europe, western Asia and North Africa, from where it was transplanted to other regions of the world. In Poland, it is also known by the name ‘bzowina’, ‘bez apteczny’ meaning pharmacy elderberry, or ‘bez dziki’ meaning wild elderberry.
In Poland, elderberry is widespread in the lowlands and the lower parts of mountains. Sometimes, it is planted near homes and in parks as a decorative plant.
Elderberry grows to 4-10 metres in height. Elderberry leaves are large and dark green, with 5-7 epileptic or longitudinal, unevenly serrated leaflets. Elder leaves grow much faster than elder flowers, and the latter are small, numerous and creamy white, arranged on long pedicels to form umbel-shaped blossoms. Elderberry blooms in May and June, its eye-pleasing flowers emit fragrance that is quite characteristic to the nose, and their taste is spicy and bitterish.
Almost all parts of elderberry have a positive impact on health.
The main herbal raw material is elder fruits and flowers picked from naturally growing elderberry. For fruits, the degree of maturity is most important, whereas for flowers, it is crucial to collect them at the right flowering stage. Ideally, elder flowers should be collected at the initial stage of flowering, at the turn of May and June. Elderberry fruits are small, spherical, dark red berries, united in fruit clusters. Fully ripe fruits are black and shiny, and it is best to collect them at the turn of September and October.
In modern herbal medicine, elderberry is commonly used and is one of the most important herbal raw materials.
Elder flowers contain, primarily, flavonoids, phenolic acids, organic acids, tannins, mineral salts and essential oil. Elder fruits contain, primarily, anthocyanins, carbohydrates, pectins, tannins, vitamin C, B vitamins, carotenoids and mineral salts. The content of these components, however, depends on the climate, soil conditions, storage conditions and method of transportation of the raw material until the time of its processing.
Elderberry flowers and fruits are used to prepare infusions, decoctions, extracts, and juices.
Elder flowers and fruits are used in herbal medicine to prepare infusions and extracts exerting multidirectional effects on the human body. Elder flower products demonstrate, first of all, diaphoretic and anti-inflammatory effects, they enhance immunity and have a diuretic action. Thanks to the content of flavonoids, they seal the walls of blood vessels and increase their flexibility. Similar properties are observed for elderberry fruits. They are valued for their detoxifying action, as they support the removal of harmful body waste products and toxins. Elder fruits are also used as an aid to treat inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
Elderberry is also used in cooking to prepare juices, preserves, jams, sweets, jellies, wines, marinades or syrups.
Polyphenols contained in elderberry flowers are strong antioxidants, which is why elderberry is used in cosmetology.
Cosmetics based on elderberry have a soothing effect on the skin and sooth irritation and redness. They also perfectly cleanse the skin and stimulate skin blood flow. Flavonoids and phenolic acid offset free radicals and protect the cell membranes from oxidation and degradation of collagen. Elderberry extracts strengthen blood vessels, reducing their permeability and preventing the formation of ‘spider veins’.
Elderberry fruits are not to be eaten raw!
This is due to the content of sambucin (particularly cyanogenic glycoside), a highly poisonous substance found in all morphological parts of the plant, although the highest contents are found in immature fruits and fresh flowers. If the fruits are consumed raw, this may lead to acute poisoning, the symptoms of which include weakening and gastrointestinal problems. Elderberry flowers and fruits can be safely consumed and do not cause any side effects if they are first subjected to heat treatment (cooking, drying).