Herbs for Health


As I write, I can see the top of my neighbors Elder tree(Sambucus nigra). It is full of flowers right when we need them to heal our coughs and colds.

This deciduous three can grow to 10m high with the same spread, so give it room. It has oval leaves and lovely cream flowers which turn to red/purple berries if the birds don’t get them first. Native to Europe, elder thrives in woods, hedges and wasteland. In the Midlands of KwaZulu – Natal it is fast becoming an ‘invader’ in the streambeds. It is propagated from cuttings in spring, or from one of the many shoots that this plant sends out.

Its common name is from the Angle Saxon’Ellaern’ or ‘Aeld’, which mean ‘fire’ or ‘kindle’, because the hollow stems were once used for getting fires going. The generic name, Sambucus, dates from ancient Greek times and may originally have referred to sambuke, a kind of harp made of elderwood.  Pipes were made from its branches too, possibly the original Pan pipes.
People thought that if you put it on the fire you would see the Devil. They believed it unlucky to make cradle rockers out of it, that the spirit of the tree might harm the child. One folktale had it that elder would only grow where blood had been shed.

For all this “Nature’s medicine chest” was just one of the old names for An Elder tree. Medicinally the flowers and berries are used to increase sweating, as an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, as well as for colds, sinus, sore throats, and a wonderful light summer wine. Research has shown that the flowers will break down the virus that causes fever blisters and cold sores.

The roots are used for kidney and lymphatic complaints.  Leaves are used in skin ointments and the berries in Autumn make a soothing cough syrup, as well as treating anaemia.  No Victorian lady would have managed a day in the sun without her elderflower lotion to clear the freckles, as well as the recipes that still exist for lightening the skin, and clearing minor blemishes.

Allergic rhinitis / hayfever – Make an infusion of 1 tsp  elderflower and 1 tsp nettle to 2 cups water and drink 2 cups for up to 3 months at a time.
Flu with muscle aches – Make an infusion with 5 gm each elderflower, lemon balm and thyme in 750 ml water. Brew for 10 minutes and drink up to 5 cups a day.

A lovely recipe for making Elderflower Cordial
4 cups flowers off the stems; juice of 6 lemons; 1 tbsp lemon rind, grated ; 6 cups white sugar; 2l water .
Use a large pot , add all the ingredients and  simmer for 10 minutes. Add extra water and lemon juice if needed. Add a small piece of sliced ginger for a ‘kick’. Cool and strain. Pour the syrup into bottles and keep cool. To serve add water to ¼ glass cordial OR add cordial to soda water.