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Elderflowers and elderberries
The elder's healing powers inspired our ancestors to see him as the seat of good spirits. Ms. Holle, who shakes the snow from her sheets and calls out "Holla, the forest fairy," still quotes this belief in the "elder woman" in the fairy tale: "Black elder, one of three species in Europe - in addition to red elder and dwarf Elderberry - not only tastes excellent, it is also a special quality medicinal plant. Here is a brief summary of the most important things:
- elder contains vitamins, minerals, tannins and mucilages, essential oil and caffeic acid derivatives.
- It relieves colds, reduces inflammation, helps against iron and vitamin deficiency, stimulates the kidneys and reduces stress.
- Applied externally, it relieves skin infections, ulcers and insect bites.
- Raw berries release hydrocyanic acid, which is why we only eat elderberries when heated.
- Flowers and berries are mainly used, but leaves and bark are also used in envelopes and teas.
Its healing potency lies in the flowers and berries. The flowers contain essential oil and flavonoids, rutin and organic acids. However, the plant's biochemical spectrum also includes hydrocyanic acid. We should therefore never enjoy the berries raw, because at least this leads to problems with digestion. The poison can only be neutralized if elderberry is heated above 80 degrees Celsius. Elderberry contains proteins that work against inflammation. The University of Jerusalem found out. Calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron are also present in the berries.
Elderberry juice works reliably against muscle pain and discomfort of the bones, for example against leg cramps. For children, it has the advantage that it doesn't taste like medicine, but like a sweet juice.
Elderberry juice also helps people with anemia and consequent iron deficiency. Among other things, the zinc it contains promotes male potency and the berries also contain vitamins C, E, K, provitamin A and the B vitamins.
Elderflower and berries are used in folk medicine to treat fever and the common cold. Elderberry loosens mucus, which is found in the nose and bronchi, the assumption. The soothing effects of colds have been clearly proven by various studies and some studies also provide evidence of a preventive effect.
To prevent colds with vitamin C, you should heat the elderberry juice to over 80 degrees Celsius, but not longer than 100 degrees Celsius. Then you destroy the hydrocyanic acid, but do not boil the vitamins. Elderberries cause the kidneys to excrete more water. This helps against urinary problems, as the fluid flushes out pathogens. Elderberry also has an antioxidant effect thanks to the flavonoids and phenols. These substances are particularly found in the berries.
Furthermore, elderberry bark is used in many distribution regions as a remedy for insect bites, swelling and acute inflammation. The anti-inflammatory effect has been scientifically confirmed, but it is still unclear which active ingredients work together and how.
Folk medicine uses leaves, flowers, bark and berries of elderberry: elderflower syrup and tea as well as elderberry juice, teas from the bark, envelopes and baths from the roots. The flowers are said to promote perspiration, the berries stimulate the kidneys, the roots and bark have a laxative effect.
Elderberry - biology
Elderberries are a genus in the musk herb family. This genus contains almost a dozen species, three of which grow wild in Central Europe. The "elder" or "lilac bush" mostly means the black elder, an all-rounder that spreads almost everywhere in this country. Then there is the little dwarf elder and the red elder. The latter differs from black elderberry mainly by the red, not black color of the berries. The three elderberries grow from temperate latitudes to the subtropics.
Elderberries are subshrubs that reach a height of 1 to 15 m depending on the species. They are green in summer and lose their leaves in winter. The stone fruits look like berries, are black, blue or red and contain up to 5 seeds. Branches and twigs contain pulp in which there are calcium oxalate crystals. Black elder likes soil rich in nutrients and is found in Central Europe on the edges of paths and forests, in gardens and in fields.
Myth and history
The black elder plays an important role in myths and fairy tales. The Germans thought it was the seat of the good goddess Holda. This kept out evil spirits as well as lightning and fire. Elderberry bushes in front of the house offered magical protection. A weak reflection of this goddess can be found in the fairy tale by Frau Holle of the Brothers Grimm. Holda or Holla was the goddess of springs and wells, and the Teutons prayed to her for the fertility of the fields. If the elder bloomed profusely, then the harvest became good, so the old people believed.
Presumably, faith helped the elder to spread. Because if you drop an elder, you must expect Holda to punish you with an illness, and even in the 18th century people in the countryside asked for forgiveness if they sawed off an elder.
The power attributed to elderberry should also have negative consequences. A withering elderberry in the garden was a sign that a member of the family would soon die. Witches were supposed to turn into an elderberry branch, and therefore elderwood was not allowed to be used in furniture.
Greeks and Romans also saw the seat of good spirits in elderberry. The ancient world already knew the elder as a medicinal plant. Hippocrates rightly recommended elderberry as a water-driving agent. Dioskurides (1st century AD) used elder roots for dropsy and placed the fresh leaves on ulcers.
Adamus Lonicerus (1528-1586) also emphasized its draining effects, used it to cleanse the blood and saw it as a remedy for eye diseases and shaky hands. Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762-1836) gave his patients steam baths and gargle water with elderberry against respiratory diseases.
In addition to such early applications, which were based on real healing powers of the plant, our ancestors also attributed numerous effects to elderberry that arose from superstition. So people hung pus, nails and teeth of sick people on elderberry bushes, because the uninhibited growth of the plant should "absorb the evil". Childless women hugged elder bushes to receive, toothache-stricken bites on an elderberry branch and believed that this was how the pain was transmitted to it. Hundreds of teas should only work if you picked the flowers before sunrise.
Arrogance from today's perspective is out of place. Elderberry was essential in the "pharmacist of the farmer" and an effective cure gained from experience for people for whom a trained doctor was beyond the horizon.
Elderberry - healing power in the kitchen
Pick ripe elderberries in autumn and prepare them in a juicer. To do this, boil the berries in a little water for two minutes until they are soft. Then pour the liquid into a sieve and squeeze out the berries. Fill the juice into dark bottles and put it in the fridge. Consume it within three days. If you freeze the juice and thaw it as needed, it will last up to six months. You can warm up the juice a little to use it against colds.
Elderflower tea is made from the flowers of black elderberry. You can also boil these flowers with sugar to a syrup and, if necessary, dilute it with water. The syrup is kept in an airtight container for up to several months. Elderflower tea drives sweat and lowers the fever, loosens the mucus when coughing and runny nose. To do this, prepare it fresh, because the active ingredients evaporate. It is also suitable for pregnant women without any problems.
For an elderflower tea, pour hot water over two teaspoons of dried flowers, let the brew steep for ten minutes and then strain it. To prevent colds, one or two cups a day can be drunk during critical times. To relieve acute runny nose, drink four cups a day.
Elder autumn drink
This drink is the healthy alternative to mulled wine if you are caught in a cold downpour. To do this, warm up a quarter liter of elderberry juice with a quarter liter of water, add cinnamon, cardamom and two cloves, let everything steep for three minutes, sweeten with honey and then drink a vitamin bomb that strengthens the immune system.
For an elderberry soup, puree 300 g of elderberries and add half a liter of water, 50 g of honey and the juice of a lemon. Boil the mixture, pass it through a sieve, add stiff whipped cream and eat it warm.
Make elderflower syrup yourself
Elderflowers can be collected from May to July. The production of the popular elderflower syrup is very simple. You only need:
- 1 liter of water
- 2 kilograms of sugar
- Around 15 umbels of elderflower
- 25 grams of citric acid
- 1 untreated lemon
- 1 to 2 untreated oranges
First, gently tap the elderflowers to remove any insects. Boil the water and completely dissolve the sugar in it. Cut the lemons and oranges into small pieces and add them. Add elderflower umbels and citric acid. Let the liquid soak for three to five days. Then strain through a fine sieve or cloth and pour into a closable container. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Editor's note: In an earlier version of this article, a clear preventive effect of elderberry has been reported for colds, although the available studies only provide indications of a preventive effect. We have therefore adjusted these statements accordingly.
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH): European Elder (accessed: April 19, 2018), NCCIH
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