Elder flowers come from the same plant as elder berries and, like the berries, contain bioflavonoids. Elder flowers are used in teas, skin care salves, lotions and washes, cosmetics, and to make a soothing gargle.
Before harvest, elder flowers are an umbrella-like mass (umbels), made up of inflorescence (a flowering structure composed of more than a single flower), that are typically flat topped to convex. Each axis or main stem ends in a flower, with the oldest flowers in the center, and younger ones successively arising from the branches of the previous. After being harvested from the tree, they are composed primarily of individual flowers, and unopened buds, approximately 1 mm in size. Some individual flower petals may be present in addition to small amounts of leaf and stem pieces (1% or less).
To use as a tea, pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 tsp. of herb, cover and steep 3-5 minutes.
In addition to being a popular herbal tea, elder flowers are often used in potpourri to add texture.
To make a tea, pour one cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of elder flowers and let steep for five minutes. To make a stronger tea for use as a gargle or compress, use 2 teaspoons of elder flowers and steep for 10 minutes.
Suggested Uses: Elder flowers are used as a flavoring in beverages, candies and lozenges, frozen desserts and wines. The fresh flowers are also edible, and elder-flower fritters are a European favorite.
The flowers are also used to make a soothing, clearing herbal tea. A tried-and-true tea formula to open the pores and dispel heat and stagnation combines equal part of elder flowers, peppermint and yarrow flowers. This tea is always drunk piping hot.
Elder is sometimes an ingredient in skin salves and ointments. It's also used in skin washes and lotions for its calming effect on the skin. As an ingredient in cosmetics, its skin-refining properties are valued.
Elder flower water, which is the hydrosol (the water by-product of steam distillation of an essential oil), is used as a base for skin care products. You can make your own elder flower water by making a strong elder flower tea. (Or you can combine elder flowers with lavender and/or calendula flowers.) Let the tea stand until cool, and then add a small amount of vodka or glycerin (to help draw out the non-water soluble constituents from the flowers and act as a preservative). Cover and let stand for a day, then strain and bottle.
Another use of elder flowers is as a facial compress for dry or sensitive skin. Soak a piece of muslin in hot elder flower tea, squeeze out the liquid, and apply to face for a minute to help open up the pores and calm and relax the face. Use a cold compress to close the pores and cleanse and soothe the skin.
The Botanical Safety Handbook* classifies elder flower as:
Class:1 Herbs which can be safely consumed when used appropriately.
Please note that according to the Botanical Safety Handbook, the unripe and raw fruit, seeds, bark and leaves contain a component, sambunigrin, which may cause vomiting or severe diarrhea if ingested.
Per the German Commission E Monograph** for elder flower, there are no known contraindications, side effects or drug interactions.
*Michael McGuffin, ed., American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook, (New York: CRC Press, 1997)
**Mark Blumenthal, ed., The Complete German Commission E Monographs,(Austin TX: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998