Elder Benefits, What is Elder

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Gaining popularity in modern times as a cold and flu medicine, elder flower has been an important folk remedy for centuries. The Roman naturalist Pliny wrote about the therapeutic value of this flowering tree in the first century a.d. Native Americans used elder as a treatment for respiratory infections and constipation as well as an herbal pad for healing wounds. Black elder (Sambucus nigra) is the most popular variety of the plant, though there are other species known to have similar chemical ingredients. Elder grows in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and the United States. Most medicinal elder is obtained from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and the United Kingdom. The Latin word sambucus is thought to be derived from the Greek sambuca, which refers to a stringed musical instrument popular among the Ancient Romans. In fact, some modern day Italians still make a primitive pipe called a sampogna from the branches of the tree, which also produces fragrant, cream-colored flowers and deep-violet berries. The flowers and berries are used most often in the drug of commerce, though the leaves, bark, and roots are also considered to have therapeutic effects. The berries traditionally have been used to make elderberry wine as well as pies and jellies, although no value has yet been found in these products.

The German Commission E, considered an authoritative source of information on alternative remedies, determined that elder has the ability to increase bronchial secretions as well as perspiration. These properties can be useful in helping to alleviate symptoms of the common cold or the flu. Even more interesting is the possibility that elder, like another herbal remedy called echinacea, may have the power to shorten the duration of colds by up to a few days. While it is not known exactly how elder produces its therapeutic effects, study has focused on several naturally occurring chemicals in the plant. Elder's flavonoids and phenolic acids are thought to be responsible for its ability to increase perspiration. The triterpenes in elder may also be potential "active ingredients," though more study is required to confirm this. The remaining chemical constituents of medicinal elder usually include potassium and other minerals; sterols;

volatile oils containing linoleic, linolenic, and palmitic acid; mucilage; pectin; protein; sugar; and tannins.

A number of other properties have been ascribed to elder as well, including anti-inflammatory, diuretic, antiviral, and antispasmodic activities. A 1997 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, which studied black elder in the test tube, indicates that the herb has some activity as an anti-inflammatory. While this may help to partially explain elder's success in treating colds, it also suggests that the herb may have potential as a treatment for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatism. Elder has also been described in the history of folk medicine as a laxative and a sedative.

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