Elder flower, the common name for blossoms on plants of the genus Sambucus, is a type of flower used as a flavoring agent and in homeopathic medicine. Human use of this plant dates back hundreds if not thousands of years, though it retains the most popularity in Europe, particularly in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden. The more than two dozen different types of this shrub grow throughout the world, but the best known is the Sambucus nigra which grows across much of Northern Europe and North America.
The common type of elder flower is notable for its pretty, cream-colored flowers and dark blue or purple berries. Before ripening and when raw, the berries may cause illness and are believed to be slightly poisonous in nature. Additionally, the leaves, stems, and main branches of the shrub are also known to be poisonous and should not be consumed. When cooked, the berries have a slightly tart flavor often likened to blueberries or red currants,and are often made into jams, pies, or even wine. Berries and flowers together can be boiled and combined to make sauces or alcoholic drinks, popular across much of Europe.
The elder flower itself is the pale white or cream blossom that adorns the shrub, with a delicate scent often compared to roses and jasmine. The blossoms themselves have a wide variety of culinary uses. Flowers are frequently harvested and turned into liqueurs, flavoring syrups, or wine. It is a component in the popular cordial Sambuca, but can also be used alone as a cordial beverage. Some vintners recommend using it to flavor sparkling beverages, noting that it can make a wonderful champagne-like drink. Elder flower syrup is also commercially available; this non-alcoholic syrup can be added to sparkling water or mixed drinks for a delicious, flowery flavor.
In homeopathic remedies, elder flower blossoms are often used in creating teas and tisanes for a variety of ailments. Some suggest that it is an excellent remedy for hay fever, both as a preventative measure and a treatment. Some homeopathic experts also suggest using the flower as a tea to reduce flu symptoms and even help boost immunity to the flu. Elder flowers steeped in water is also sometimes suggested as a method of reducing skin irritations such as acne. It is important to remember that these remedies are folk-based and not a product of medical research, and that many doctors suggest consulting with a physician before trying any natural remedy.