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
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.
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.