elder leaves

Gail H
Gail H Posts: 359 ✭✭✭✭
edited November 2020 in Wild Edibles & Medicinals

Due to a poor harvest last year and high demand recently, I may actually run out of elderberries. Doc Jones says that adults can use elder leaves. My elder bushes are just starting to leaf out so I could potentially use these if needed. Does anyone have any experience using elder leaves? How do you use them? Do they cause stomach upset? Are the tiny, new one safer to use?

I am happy to see lemon balm. yarrow and peppermint popping up. I can restock soon and have fresh herbs if needed.


  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,396 admin

    Good question @Gail H! Doc Jones is a very experienced herbalist and may have information other than what I have been taught but it is my understanding that the leaves should not be used. He may also have information on dosage which makes a big difference. Some herbs are efficacious in very low doses which might be the case here.

    But this is my info on elder leaves.

    This is from the American Botanical Council's monograph on Elder: "Improperly prepared elder preparations can induce toxic effects in humans through poisonous alkaloid and cyanogenic glycosides that are found in the roots, stems, leaves, bark, and unripe berries."

    This is from a commercial Elderberry grower, Norm's Farms: "The seeds, stems, leaves and roots of the Black Elder are all poisonous to humans. They contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside. Eating a sufficient quantity of these cyanide-inducing glycosides can cause a toxic buildup of cyanide in the body and make you quite ill. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even coma."

    This is a further bit of info from Norm's Farms which I thought was interesting regarding the properties of elder berry after cooking: "Cooking the berries destroys the glycosides present in the seeds, making the berries with their seeds safe to eat. As such, the fruit of the Black Elderberry should always be cooked before consumption. Interestingly, research indicates that exposing elderberry to heat actually concentrates the polyphenols and anthocyanins."

    A Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve indicates that the leaves can be used in an ointment for bruises, sprains, etc. and also have diaphoretic, diuretic and expectorant suggesting that they might be useful for colds and flus. But (and a big but), this is very old information and also states that the leaves are very purgative. So this may indicate very low doses.

    I think I'd find other medicines to use.

  • alindsay22
    alindsay22 Posts: 129 ✭✭✭
    edited March 2020

    In the past, I have run out every year and then the price goes up to $50 a pound. This year I bought 4 pounds in August! It's a good year to get it right. Still looking for a Mexican elderberry to plant in my dry CA yard - if anyone has suggestions.

    I would triple check on the leaves as well. Elder Flower is safe, but I've always heard leaves, bark, root - stay away. It's why I didn't plant one when my kids were little because my son never met a stick he didn't eat.

  • Melissa Swartz
    Melissa Swartz Posts: 270 ✭✭✭

    From Stephen Harrod Buhner here: https://www.stephenharrodbuhner.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/coronavirus.txt.pdf

    About Decocted (Sambucus) Elder Leaf Tincture

    This is not generally commercially available. (Please see the lengthy section on Elder in my book Herbal Antivirals). Elder leaf and bark are exceptionally potent medicines for a variety of things, including viral pathogens.

    Unfortunately bad press by adversarial medical activists in the early twentieth century spread the rumor that elder (Sambucus) is a poisonous plant. It is not. In descending order of impact the bark, leaves, and berries can cause vomiting in some people, not all. (I am not generally affected and use undecocted tinctures.)

    It depends on the dose and personal susceptibilities. However, if the herb is boiled (i.e., decocted) the compounds that cause vomiting are deactivated.

    Note: The leaves and bark are far more potent anti-virals than the berries or flowers. I would not suggest the berries for use in treating this pathogen; they are not, in my opinion, strong enough.

    To make a decocted elder leaf tincture: Boil four ounces of dried elder leaf (two ounces if fresh) in two quarts water until it is reduced by half. Cool, strain, then measure the amount of liquid left. To this add 25% pure grain alcohol.

    If your state will not allow you to buy pure grain alcohol (which is 95% alcohol) then after you cool and strain the liquid, put it in the pot again and reduce it once more by half. Let it cool again and then measure and add to it the same amount of 40% to 50% vodka, 50% is preferable. Hopefully, someone will begin making this 17 commercially soon.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,396 admin

    @Melissa Swartz Thank you for posting this. It is always good to have another perspective, especially one that brings clarity to a subject. Unfortunately, as he states, elder leaf is not common in the commercial market. Not too many people would have much in the way of leaves yet unless you are much further south than I am. The take away I am getting from this is to test a small amount of elder leaf tea to see if you are one of the people that might react to it, before you are sick. I vomit at the drop of the proverbial hat so it is probably not one that I am going to be able to tolerate.

    The whole article is a very good one and offers suggestions for other herbs to assist with all coronavirus infections.

  • Gail H
    Gail H Posts: 359 ✭✭✭✭

    @Melissa Swartz Thank you for that valuable information. I do want to clarify that one uses twice as much dried herb by weight as fresh? That seems odd. That's definitely what the link you provided says. Perhaps drying the leaves lessens some important constituent.

  • An
    An Posts: 42 ✭✭

    I remember hearing in a seminar by John Moody that the American elder is not the toxic one, but the European cultivars are. I want to say he appeared on the GrowNetwork's summit at some time? Here is a link to his book.

  • Melissa Swartz
    Melissa Swartz Posts: 270 ✭✭✭

    @Gail H I agree that it's odd to recommend twice as much dried leaves as fresh, but that is what it says. I've never harvested the leaves; just flowers and berries, so I don't know how drying affects them. But this year, I will be harvesting leaves and will know more!

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 1,937 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Could the issue of using twice as much dried as fresh be a result of being measured by weight? I would think the dried plant parts would be much lighter than the fresh which still has all of it's moisture intact.

  • bcabrobin
    bcabrobin Posts: 251 ✭✭✭

    I agree the leaves weight alot less then berries. Do you have any old timers in your area? You could ask if they have used the elderberry leaves. If you have wild bushes that may also be better, you would know they are American. Love these kinds of question - you really make us think and research to get info. Thank you!