Black elder tree
© 2018 Steven Foster

A elder monograph for the home

Latin Name: Sambucus nigra

Common Names: European elder, black elder, elderberry, elder flower, sambucus

This elder monograph provides basic information about European elder—common names, usefulness and safety, and resources for more information.


Elder Basics

  • European elder is a tree native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, and it also grows in the United States. The name “elder” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “aeld,” meaning fire. The terms “elder flower” and “elderberry” may refer to either European elder or a different herb called American elder. This fact sheet focuses only on European elder.
  • Various parts of the elder tree, including the bark, leaves, flowers, fruits, and roots, have long been used in traditional medicine.
  • Currently, elderberry and elder flower are used as dietary supplements for flu, colds, constipation, and other conditions.
  • The dried flowers (elder flower) and the dried ripe or fresh berries (elderberry) of the European elder tree are used in teas, extracts, and capsules.

Elder Health Research

  • A small number of studies in people have evaluated European elder for various health conditions. Some of these studies used products that included several ingredients, so the actions of individual ingredients are unclear.

Elder Research Summary

  • Although some preliminary research indicates that elderberry may relieve flu symptoms, the evidence is not strong enough to support its use for this purpose.
  • A few studies have suggested that combination products containing elder flower and other herbs might be helpful for sinusitis, but because the products contain multiple ingredients, it’s unclear what role, if any, elder flower plays in their effects.
  • There’s not enough information to show whether elder flower and elderberry are helpful for any other purposes.
  • Researchers funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) are studying the antioxidant effects of extracts from elderberry and their possible relevance to the body’s defense against infection.

Elder Safety

  • The leaves, stems, raw and unripe berries, and other plant parts of the elder tree contain a toxic substance and, if not properly prepared, may cause nausea, vomiting, and severe diarrhea. Because the substance may also be present in the flower, consuming large amounts of the flower might be harmful; however, no illnesses caused by elder flower have been reported.

Elder References

  • Elderberry. Natural Medicines Web site. Accessed at on April 9, 2015. [Database subscription].
  • Elder flower. In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:103-105.
  • Elderflower. Natural Medicines Web site. Accessed at on April 9, 2015. [Database subscription].
  • Mumcuoglu M, Safirman D, Ferne M. Elderberry. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Informa Healthcare; 2010:235-240.
  • Vlachojannis JE, Cameron M, Chrubasik S. A systematic review on the sambuci fructus effect and efficacy profilesPhytotherapy Research. 2010;24(1):1-8.