Foraging: Elderberry Flower

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) (Photo of Flower Above)

Common elderberry or American elder, is a shrub that is commonly found throughout eastern North America. Its characteristic clusters of small, cream-colored flowers are often seen on the road-side in late spring and early summer. Elderberries have opposite, elongated, toothed leaflets that are three to four inches long. The rounded flower clusters, also called elderblow, may be six inches or more. Common elderberries bear clusters of small dark purple berries that ripen mid-summer to early fall. The only edible parts of the elderberry are the berries and flowers. Leaves, stems, bark and roots are very toxic, so it’s important to be vigilant about not including any of these when preparing elderberry for food. The berries, bark and leaves have been used traditionally in medicinal preparations.

Watch out for Hercules’ club which bears leaves and poisonous black berries that resemble those of elderberries. Hercules’ club’s berry clusters are flat instead of round, and the stems are covered in thorns, while elderberry is smooth.


When to harvest & how to prepare: During the months from late May to Early June (depending on the arrival of Summer warmth) look for the elderberrys distinct leaf formation and pale yellow rounded flower clusters. Gather Elderberry flowers by cutting the stem 3 inches below the flowering crown. Store elderberry flowers while drying inside a dark paper sack (Use elderberry flowers fresh or dried in teas and infusions.)

Brewing your own elderberry tea is quite easy, and requires nothing more than a few flowerheads from the elderberry plant, cinnamon, and mint. While some people prefer to make a syrup from crushed elderberries and use that to quickly make an elderberry-flavored beverage, the milder form of tea made from the flowerheads is also very effective, and more pleasant to taste. You can use the unopened flowerheads to brew this delicious tea or wait until they bloom for a milder, sweeter flavored drink.



  • 2-3 flowerheads (umbrels)
  • 1 cup of water (filtered)
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 4-5 mint leaves

Step 1 – Place the flowerheads in a teapot.

Step 2 – Bring the water to a boil and then remove from heat.

Step 3 – Pour the water over the flowerheads and allow to steep for 5-8 minutes, depending on your desired strength.

Step 4 – Strain the mixture and add the cinnamon and mint leaves.

Step 5 – Enjoy!


The medicinal benefits of Elderberry tea are wide ranging – they include boosting the immune system, cleansing the body, improving vision, speeding up the metabolism, increasing respiratory health, lowering inflammation, protecting against chronic disease, aiding the healing process, stimulating digestion and eliminating chronic pain, among others.

Vision Health

Significant levels of vitamin A in elderberry tea make it the ideal booster for vision health. Vitamin A acts as an antioxidant and can help prevent macular degeneration and slow the development of cataracts as you age.

Metabolic Function

The B-family vitamins are well represented in elderberry tea, most of which can boost the metabolism. By improving metabolic function, it can increase passive fat-burning, which can aid in weight loss efforts, while also optimizing various processes in the body related to hormones and digestion.

Detoxify the Body

Elderberry tea has been linked to laxative and diuretic effects, meaning that it can detoxify the body by expelling excess toxins, salts, and fats through urination. As a laxative, this tea can improve symptoms of constipation, reducing the occurrence of hemorrhoids, and maximize nutrient uptake efficiency.


Soothing the stomach with natural anti-inflammatory compounds, elderberry tea can reduce excess flatulence, indigestion, acid reflux disease, and stomach upset, making it an excellent tea for before or after meals.

Respiratory Infections

Some of the most popular traditional uses of elderberry tea relate to respiratory infections, bronchitis, coughs, and congestion. There appears to be decongestant and expectorant qualities in elderberries volatile compounds, helping to ease inflammation in the respiratory tracts and eliminating mucus and phlegm where bacteria and other pathogens can thrive.

Immune System

High levels of vitamin C make this herbal tea a potent immune system aid, as it can stimulate the production of white blood cells, and also act as an antioxidant throughout the body. Ascorbic acid can seek out free radicals and lower oxidative stress, which allows your immune system to focus on more pressing attacks and infections.

Pain and Inflammation

Studies have found that there are certain analgesic properties to elderberry tea, as well as anti-inflammatory properties that help those recovering from illness, injury or surgery. This tea is particularly popular for those suffering from back pain or joint disorders, and some people drink 2-3 cups per day to relieve pain from morning to night. Elderberry tea can also be used medicinally to treat symptoms of arthritis.

Caution: Elderberry tea also comes with a number of side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and a worsening of autoimmune conditions. Do not consume Elderberry tea or extract if you experience any of these symptoms.

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