Elderflower: The Oldest Cultivated Herb

Elder is the tree that produces both the elderflower and the elderberry. It has been in use since the Stone Age. Hippocrates and Dioscorides wrote about it, and so did Pliny.

According to the superstitions of 17th century England, elder trees were able to ward off evil. In addition, a tincture made from elderflowers was thought a cure for a vast range of illnesses ranging from plague to toothache.

Elder trees grew in the New World as well and the flowers were widely used by Native Americans. One of their uses for the elderflower was as a drug for inducing perspiration. They would make a hot tea of the flower when using it for this purpose. The Mohegan people used elderflower tea to provide relief to infants suffering from colic and the Menominee tribe used it to reduce fevers.

Elderflower was used throughout the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries as both a medicine and a flavoring. These days you can find extracts of elderflowers at health food stores and online.

Elderflower flavor profile

Elderflower’s flavor is best described as deeply floral with notes of citrus and vanilla. The taste has been likened to several aromatic fruits including passion fruit and pears. Some have likened their aroma to that of Muscat grapes as well. It is subtle and not overpowering but fragrant in a way that makes it suitable for beverages.

Benefits of elderflower

Elderflower is a rich source of various compounds that have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and even anti-cancer properties. The compounds include:

  • Flavonols: Elderflower contains antiviral flavonols like quercetin and anthocyanins.
  • Chlorogenic Acid: Cinnamic acid and the other acids in this group can help with a range of conditions including high blood glucose and allergies.
  • Triterpenoids: Terpenes have anti-cancer and analgesic benefits as well as being effective anti-cancer agents.
  • Antioxidants: The quercetin in elderflowers is a potent antioxidant that can help to protect your body from oxidative stress. In addition, elderflowers contain vitamin C, and that helps to promote skin health along with the health of your blood vessels and ligaments.

Elderflower can be used to treat conditions such as:

  • Flu: This is one of its oldest uses and recent studies have found that an extract from elderflower is indeed effective for combating flu symptoms.
  • High Cholesterol: The quercetin contained in elderflowers has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
  • Methicillin-staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections

Research has shown that elderflower extract is effective for eliminating a variety of common hospital infections including MRSA.

Common uses of elderflowers

Elder is said to be humankind’s oldest cultivated herb and therefore there are numerous ways to use it. One popular way is to make elderflower cordial. The cordial is made with fresh elderflowers and lemons as well as sugar and water. You can use it to make a refreshing drink by adding it to club soda.

You can also use elderflower cordial as a sauce by drizzling it over creamy desserts. When added to rhubarb or gooseberry tarts, elderflowers can infuse the dessert with a sweet and floral scent. You can add elderflowers to muffin and cake batters to serve the same purpose.