Few plants have received the amount of attention across peoples and places like elder. Also, few plants have been with us as long—archaeological evidence has found elder seeds in sites over 9,000 years old. It makes sense. Few plants provide one-stop shopping like the elder. It is fruit, medicine, and craft, all in one fast-growing and resilient plant.
Since written sources are somewhat scarce for earlier periods, we will start with where elder, especially as used and understood today, begins: the Greek and Roman cultures. The founders of modern botany, pharmacology, herbology, and medicine all discuss, often at length, the elder. Storytelling for business such as this over the years is interesting, to say the least.
Hippocrates, often called the “Father of Medicine,” has many comments about making use of the elder’s root, leaves, and juice. The leaves occur far more often than any other part.
Every third day, let him bathe, if it helps; if not let him be anointed; also let him take walks, if he is able, determining their distance in accordance with his food. Boil leaves of the elder tree and of the fleabane that is always tender, and give these to the patient to drink.
If the brain suffers from bile, a mild fever is present, chills, and pain through the whole head, especially in the temples, bregma, and the sockets of the eyes. The eyebrows seem to overhang, pain sometimes migrates to the ears, bile runs out through the nostrils, and the patient sees unclearly. In most patients, pain occupies one half of the head, but it can also arise in the whole head.
When the case is such, apply cold compresses to the patient’s head, and, when the pain and flux cease, instill celery juice into his nostrils. Let him avoid bathing, as long as the pain is present, take as gruel thin millet to which a little honey has been added, and drink water. If nothing passes off below, have him eat cabbage, and drink the juice as gruel; if not that, then the juice of elder leaves in the same way. When you think it is the right moment, give foods of the most laxative kind.
Treat persons suffering from wounds by having them abstain from food, by administering an enema or giving a medication to evacuate the contents downwards from their cavity, and by having them drink water and vinegar, and take watery gruel. If the wound is inflamed, cool it with plasters; let the plasters be made from beets boiled in water, or celery, or olive leaves, or fig leaves, or leaves of elder or bramble, or sweet pomegranate; apply these boiled.