Foraging Health Herbs


Elder-flowerThe use of Elderflower in beverages has seen a resurgence in recent years thanks to the growing number of ‘foodies’ out there, but its use in traditional medicine goes back thousands of years.

Elder can be found in all parts of the UK and Europe, and its flowers drench the surroundings in heavenly scent from the middle to end of May (possibly later in more northern areas). If left to develop, those flowers turn into tiny black berries in the autumn, and are a popular wine ingredient.

The only part of the elder which is safe to eat are its flowers. The stems, branches and leaves contain a substance similar to cyanide, and thus are toxic.  Even the berries are unsafe in their raw form, and must be cooked before consumption, to get rid of this harmful chemical.

In manufacturing, elderflower extracts are often used in perfumes. Elderflower water is used in eye and skin lotions. But that’s not all these beauties are good for.

The laborious task of stripping the star-like flowers from their heads is worth every second, since, not only are the flowers fragrant, they are delicious.  From tea, tincture and cordial to deep-fried, battered delicacies, elderflowers make awesome eating. What makes it even better is that elderflowers contain many beneficial substances and properties.

For instance:

Elderflower can be used as a gargle and mouthwash for coughs, colds, laryngitis, flu, and shortness of breath. It is used on the skin for joint pain (rheumatism), and pain and swelling (inflammation).

There’s evidence that elderflower might work like insulin to lower blood sugar.

What else?


– contains phytochemicals that help prevent free radical damage
– contains Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3 Complex, Vitamin C
– is anti-inflamatory, antiviral, anti-cancer
– is an effective diuretic, laxative and insect-repellant
– helps asthma
– is effective against allergies and sinusitis
– is a detoxification aid (increases sweat to eliminate metabolic waste)
– treats fungal infections, rheumatism, toothaches and urinary tract disorders
– as a skin tonic or ointment can fade skin freckles and blemishes
– is calming and refreshing
– fights colds and flu
– as an infusion can be used as an eyewash for conjunctivitis and eye infections, or as a mouthwash to relieve sore throats and tonsilitis
– is not recommended for pregnant, breastfeeding women, or someone undergoing surgery.

When collecting Elderflowers, do so during a dry day, and not first thing in the morning when they may have dew on them.  Pick young flowerheads – those which are in bloom, but which may still have a few unopened buds on them.  Warm, dry elderflowers have the best fragrance and flavour.

elderflowerWhen foraging, never take from private land without permission from the owner.  Take only 10% of the flowers from any one bush.

Be absolutely confident that you correctly identify the plants you are taking.  There are some plants whose flowers look very similar to elder, but which are poisonous.  Elderflower is a tree/bush, and the flowers never appear on a stem coming straight from the ground. Elder branches have paired leaves coming from a central stem.  The leaves are elongated with a slightly-pointed tip.

On the left is elder.  Elder = Yum.

Hemlock – a painful and certain way to die.

On the right is hemlock.  Hemlock = Death.


By Martine Lillycrop

Science fiction author. I write about worlds that could be and worlds that never were. My books are full of action, adventure and suspense along with cool heroes and likeable villains. Join me on an adventure to worlds unseen, along paths untrodden.

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