Herbs to Know – Elder

February 12, 2016 at 12:26 am

Many of my readers who have asked about  herbs for the immune system, in the hope of avoiding a cold or flu in winter, have learned about the power of the Elder tree, both flower and berry,  and are using it for their human family, in syrup and tincture and elixir. Such a great ally plant – I personally make all of the above and more with elderberry, every year, and we take it religiously. But did you know how useful Elder is for your canine companion? Both berry and flower are foundational elements of your herbal home apothecary, which I am sure will grow over time as you go more deeply into herbalism. Let’s take a  bit of a look at elder  – and I’ll show you some ways to use it for your dog’s great health and benefit.

Botanical name: Sambucus spp. (Canadensis,nigra)
Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)
Common name: Elder
Parts used: primarily flower, and berry (fresh and dried)

Forms: Tincture of fresh or dried flower; tincture/elixir of fresh or dried berry; infusion of dried berry and flower; also oil infusion/salve and compress or poultice
Clinical Actions: Berry – immune modulating, mild diuretic, anticatarrhal, alterative
Flower: diaphoretic when given in warm infusion (human use, induces sweating); anticatarrhal, antispasmodic

Constituents: Flowers contain assorted flavonoids including both rutin and quercetin;Kaempferol has been shown to inhibit estrogen-related cancers

Primary Applications
Internal: Elder flower is used extensively in humans for catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, any congestion of the respiratory tract with restriction of breathing; warm compresses for swellings, varicose veins, and headache(dried or fresh flower) The berry is used fresh or dried in syrup, elixir(honey and alcohol) tincture and teas, as a potent immune modulator and general support through the misery of a cold or flu. Tea is used hot, made from the flowers, to help induce perspiration, and taken cool for its diuretic actions.
Cautions and Contraindications
No side effects or drug interactions reported, but some sources report a hypoglycemic effect, again in humans, while others express a modulating action which stabilizes blood sugar levels.

So how can we use this amazing plant – the “Medicine Chest” as it’s often called, for dogs? My favorite uses to follow.

Internal -Preventive/Supportive

1) Infuse apple cider vinegar with dried elder flower (available at mountainroseherbs.com) and add a Tbsp or so to your dogs drinking water or food.
2) Gently decoct (simmer) elderberries for about 20 minutes, two tsp. per 6 ounces of pure water and add a little to meals, treats, soups, Kongs. This should be given all year long, to support immune balance and health, but I always take breaks from any herb given long term. You might think about a teaspoon for very small dogs, 2 for small dogs (25 pounds) a Tbsp or more for medium and up to a quarter cup for larger breeds. Elderberry is very safe, you can use more as indicated.

3) Add berries to long simmered broths, along with reishi slices, hawthorn berries, astragalus and other  immune supportive herbs and fungi.

4) Add powdered elderberry to gently warmed honey and mix until a thick paste is formed. Offer a little as-is or add to food.

Internal – Acute

In cases of illness, acute or chronic, elder is very useful for respiratory tract infection such as kennel cough. Both berry and flower can play an important role in recovery – shortening the time of the illness and easing symptoms. I like to use tincture, although alcohol based, this is short term use , or else I use a strong decoction of the berry, if the dog will accept food that has elder ladled into it! Dose for tincture is ½ to 1 ½ mls per 20 pounds of body weight, in three doses a day. I use the lower end, usually, as I combine elder tincture with other herbs according to symptoms. But you can safely use the higher end, and I like a mixture of berry and flower, if using for any kind of rhinitis.
I also use elderflower and berry with cases of environmental allergy, for the immunomodulating effects and easing symptoms. I prefer a decoction for longterm use but elder is also available in glycerite form and in capsules, if all else fails. The aforementioned honeypaste is wonderful if the dog can take honey(not for  diabetics or with cancer). I do make use of elderflower with cancer, primarily mammary cancer and mast cell tumour, as part of a personalized herbal formulation. Dogs who may be at risk for these cancers may benefit from elderflower added to food proactively.

I most often use elder flower in poultices and compresses – poultice if I happen to have fresh flower, compress more with dried (but you can poultice with dried too of course). One reason I prefer compresses with dogs and cats, is the plant matter used in a poultice can be very messy. I aim for about 5 minutes minimum once an hour for compressing. Just infuse dried elderflower, about a 2 Tbsps, into a cup of hot water and cover. After 4 hours you have a strong infusion that can be used slightly warm or cool on skin irritations. I include elderflower in most of my salves and ointments for rashes, stings and hotspots.

Just a few ideas for making use of this amazing herb, not just for us, but our four-legged family as well.



12 thoughts on “Herbs to Know – Elder

  1. My Elderberry is hardy and in full-bloom here on the farm this year. Would have loved to consider adding elder flowers to the marigold tea for my little dog. Since none of my books here @ home mention elder as a canine remedy I went online, and I’m getting contradicting reports. The site dogstrust.org.uk has a pdf flyer that lists elderberry as ‘toxic’ to canine, as does this site vetary.com/dog/condition/elderberry-poisoning as well. Was wondering if anyone has used elder successfully in dogs? Thanks

    • Hello Lisa,
      Well, first off, I would never dream of sharing herbal information that was actually toxic or potentially so, for dogs. If you would like some reliable resources outside of my own work, check Susan Wynn’s textbook Veterinary Herbal Medicine, the classic in this field, which discusses the use of elderberry and flower in animal herbalism. I have personally used both for decades with no issues whatsoever; it is the raw berry and/or leaf that can initiate nausea (in humans as well as canines) and should not be fed. Please by all means make use of your flowers! It’s also important to know that the species we use is Sambucus nigra or canadensis, not the red elder (Sambucus racemosa).
      I hope that helps!


  2. Dear friend,
    Here’s another site that lists elder as toxic to canine dog-health-guide.org/dogpoisonousplants.html. It’s difficult to know all, or even to recall all the info packed into our brains over the years, but I just didn’t have elder on my brain’s list as safe for dogs & cats.
    Perhaps, its time to take a second look @ elder.

    • The flowers and berries (cooked) are not poisonous to humans or dogs, but the stems and bark are. Different dogs react differently. We have 4 dogs and I have found all chewing at our Sambucas at different times. Only one was physically sick a few hours later. he others had no showing of effect. Guess it is all down to size and volume of ingestation. Best just to keep them away if possible.

      • A confusing fact is that the plant is mostly called elderberry. And yes you are both right, the flowers & cooked berries may have medicinal effects on the vascular system. It is the uncooked berries & leaves that have a negative possibly toxic effect. OK, Thanks to all for the knowledgeable information & great replies.

  3. I bought herb pharm black elderberry “kids” which lists 237 mg of elderberry per 5 drops. How many drops for my 20lbs dog?

  4. Oh my gosh, my dog just ate all our elderberry losenges!! Thankful for your site, I was so worried! My daughter had them on the table to put in her bag and accidently left them there. Ugh!

  5. Thank you so, so much for this! I am an active herablist (experienced with humans) and have two chiweenies that have had issues of many kinds. It has taken much research and trusting in what I know that has brought them to very good health. Other than testing them for parvo once (which turned out to be a serious case of HGE that cleared up quickly using intermittent fasting, nano silver, pumpkin, and herbs) and a hip x-ray right after they came home with us at 10 weeks, we have been able to steer clear of the vet. I am so grateful for herbs! And I have recently made an amazing decoction with elderberry that works well for me, so knowing I can create something for them from berries is wonderful (I, like others, was reading some misleading information that just didn’t “feel” right intuitively about toxicity with elder). So thanks again. Your site is bookmarked for future research.

  6. So, to be clear the cooked berries are not toxic? I made some elderberry syrup and dumped the leftover berries in the garden (as compost) and then I was scared that if my dogs ate them, they’d get sick. They were previously dried berries, and cooked with cinnamon, ginger, lemon and tiny bit of cloves. They cooked for 10 minutes in the pressure cooker, so they are good an cooked!

  7. One of my dogs stole a bag of frozen ripe elderberrys (just under a litre) and et the lot along with blackberries. I’m expecting discomfort due to the amount of berries eaten but should I be worried about toxicity? I know if I call vet they will ask me to bring her in to keep which I will if needed but slow to do while she seems comfortable as I know she is less stressed at home

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