Herb: Blue Elder

Latin name: Sambucus caerulea

Synonyms: Sambucus glauca, Sambucus neomexicana

Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)

Medicinal use of Blue Elder:

Haemostatic. An infusion or extract made from the flowers, bark and root has been used to cure fevers and gripe, it is also laxative. A decoction of the plant has been used as an antiseptic wash to treat itches. The bark is analgesic and astringent. An infusion has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea and rheumatism. A decoction has been used as a wash in the treatment of swellings and pain. An ointment made by mixing the bark with fat has been used externally in the treatment of burns, ulcers, skin irritations etc. The fresh bark has been placed in a tooth cavity to ease the pain of toothache. The inner bark is strongly emetic. The leaves are analgesic, antiseptic, diaphoretic, febrifuge and purgative. A decoction has been used in the treatment of new colds. An infusion of the leaves and flowers has been used as a steam bath in the treatment of colds and headaches. A decoction of the leaves has been used as an antiseptic wash on limbs affected by blood poisoning. The crushed leaves have been used as a poultice to treat burns and swollen hands. A decoction of the root has been used in the treatment of bladder problems and dyspepsia. A decoction of the flowers has been used in the treatment of stomach troubles and lung complaints. Applied externally, it has been used to treat sprains and bruises and as an antiseptic wash for open sores and itches. A wine made from the fruit has been used as a tonic.

Description of the plant:


3 m
(9 3/4 foot)

to July

Habitat of the herb:

Gravelly, rather dry soils on stream banks, margins of fields, woodlands etc.

Edible parts of Blue Elder:

Fruit - raw, cooked or used in preserves. Rather sweet and juicy but full of small seeds, this is the best flavoured of the North American elders. The fruit is rather nice raw, seven people ate and enjoyed a small quantity of the raw fruit with no ill effects. The fruit can be dried for later use. A somewhat rank taste fresh, the fruit is usually dried before being used. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter and is borne in large clusters. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. Flowers - raw or cooked in fritters etc. Very pleasant and refreshing raw. A pleasant tea is made from the dried flowers.

Other uses of the herb:

A decoction of the leaves, when watered on plants, repels caterpillars. The dried flower stems repel insects and rodents. The hollow stems can be used as flutes and pipes. The pith of the stems has been used as a tinder for lighting fires. Wood - light, soft, weak, coarse grained. Of no commercial value, though it is used locally for flutes, skewers, pegs, straws etc.

Propagation of Blue Elder:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame, when it should germinate in early spring. Stored seed can be sown in the spring in a cold frame but will probably germinate better if it is given 2 months warm followed by 2 months cold stratification first. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. If good growth is made, the young plants can be placed in their permanent positions during the early summer. Otherwise, either put them in a sheltered nursery bed, or keep them in their pots in a sheltered position and plant them out in spring of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 7 - 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth 15 - 20cm with a heel, late autumn in a frame or a sheltered outdoor bed.

Cultivation of the herb:

Gravelly, rather dry soils on stream banks, margins of fields, woodlands etc.

Known hazards of Sambucus caerulea:

The leaves, green fruits and stems of some (if not all) members of this genus are poisonous. The fruit of this species has been known to cause stomach upsets to some people. Any toxin the fruit might contain is liable to be of very low toxicity and is destroyed when the fruit is cooked.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.