5 Incredible Elderflower Health Benefits


One tree to rule them all! In all seriousness this tree is amazing. The elder tree (Sambucus nigra) not only gives us elderberries in the cooler season but also elderflowers in the warmer months.

You’ve probably tried some elderflower cordial before (we have a recipe down below so keep reading), but did you know that elderflowers have some amazing health benefits? Here are a few ways to use them and some of the things that these beautiful flowers are great for.

🌿Related: We use elderberries in our Immunity Tonic


How To Identify Elderflowers

To harness the elderflower health benefits you must first learn how to identify them. The leaves of the elderflower tree are dark green, with jagged edges and they also have a strong scent when crushed. The leaves are often found in clusters of five. Fun fact: they were actually used as an insect repellent back in the day! Apparently farmers would put a sprig in their hat to stop biting insects getting them! 

Before flowering the elder tree has green tight buds, they then get larger and then flower into creamy and pale yellow flowers and ‘spray’ out of the stem. Elderflowers can look similar to Pyracantha (larger flowers, more tightly packed than elder) and cow parsley (has no visible pollen and no leaves near flowers) so make sure you identify it correctly!


How And When To Find Them

The health benefits of elderflowers are super useful all year round but of course there is only a short window in which you can harvest them. Elderflowers only bloom for a short period so keep an eye out for them in late spring/early summer in the South Island and early summer in the North Island in New Zealand. Try and harvest them when the tree is two-thirds covered.

You can use elderflowers in teas, tonics, glycetracts, cordials and baking. When picking elderflowers try and pick them in the morning when they are at their highest potency, also once picked lay them on paper in a warm dry place to dry upside down (this helps the bugs to come out as well!).

Elderflowers actually like cooler areas so often you can find them in even the lower parts of New Zealand. When you are harvesting - don’t take from trees near the road or near industrial sites, always ask before taking and don’t over harvest (if you take all the flowers there will be no berries in winter!).


Elderflowers vs Elderberries

Elderflower health benefits include supporting healthy respiratory systems, in particular helping reduce runny noses (catarrh) and has also been used to support healthy fever management. Traditionally herbalists recommend taking elderflowers daily in the allergy season to reduce symptoms. They can also be used topically as they impart anti inflammatory properties, so they're great for calming irritated skin. 


Elderberries however are obviously berries! They are a deep dark red and appear in the cooler months. When harvesting elderberries please be mindful to not overharvest (just like with the elderflowers) and also remember that you can’t eat the berries when they are green or raw as they are slightly toxic (this changes when the berry is heated). Elderberries have many great health benefits too - they have strong anti viral properties and hold vitamins such as A and C.

Some key elderflower health benefits include:

  • Helping sinuses
  • Healthy blood supply
  • Used for fever
  • Anti-inflammatory 
  • Used topically for skin health


1 Sinuses

A key elderflower health benefit is that they are great for supporting healthy sinuses. This can help you if you catch the ills and chills as well as in the allergy season. Elderflower in particular helps to reduce and stop runny noses as it has anti catarrhal properties. It also helps to reduce that blocked up and ‘deafness’ you can get from too much mucus in your sinuses - really helpful for those that are prone to chronic sinusitis. 

🌿Related: 8 Natural Ways To Relieve Allergies


2 Healthy Blood Supply

Another health benefit of elderflower is that it supports a healthy blood supply, so it can be used as a tonic. As a cold infusion it can help support the detoxification pathways and in particular help with constipation.

It is also helpful for those that are wanting to look after their skin. If waste products are not able to be eliminated via the bowel or kidneys they often try to go out via the skin. Bitters and elderflower can help support a better elimination process and healthier looking skin as elder also acts as a diuretic. 

🌿Related: The 3 Ingredients In Liver Bitters That Will Help You Feel Amazing


3 Fever

Due to it's wide range of health benefits, elderflowers have been used traditionally to help manage fevers. They are often found in tea blends that support a healthy immune system alongside peppermint and thyme. The active properties within the flower induce sweating by working on sweat gland activity, which can help with promoting a fever. The amazing thing about elderflowers is that when they are heated (like in a tea) they help to promote a fever and sweating but in a cold infusion they can cool you down. The plant adapts to your needs!

4 Anti-Inflammatory 

A good thing to know about elderflower health benefits is that both the leaves and the flowers help to impart anti-inflammatory properties. This can be helpful when you are feeling under the weather, suffering from seasonal allergies, or looking to reduce inflammation within your lifestyle (e.g. from processed foods or too much alcohol). The anti-inflammatory properties can be traced back to the presence of ursolic acid within the plant. Elder is also high in antioxidants and has nutritional health benefits also.


🌿Related: If you struggle with inflammation read this


5 Skin

The health benefits of elderflowers mean they are high in antioxidants, anti inflammatory and also helpful in supporting healthy skin healing and reducing skin irritations. This amazing flower is calming and can be used as a poultice on upset skin, or you could use a cooled elderflower infusion on the skin (or even add it to a bath).

Elderflower infusions have been traditionally used to support tired, itchy and irritated eyes as well. You could soak some cotton pads in an elderflower infusion and place them on your eyes to help calm them down or reduce irritation. Another idea could be to put the soaked cotton pads in the fridge before use to really cool and calm your eyes down! This is a great idea for those months with extra pollen and dust flying around!

How To Use Elderflowers

We love the versatility of this amazing plant and we are particularly grateful to be able to use elderflowers in our Vira Elixir! But there are also so many different ways to use this plant at home and really make use of the elderflower health benefits. Here are two of our favourites:

Making An Infusion - When making a cold infusion it is ok to leave the stalk on the elderflower but with a hot infusion take the flowers off first as the stalk can be very bitter and give you an upset stomach. You can pick and dry the flower heads for use in winter to help with runny noses and fever management - pair it with thyme and peppermint for a lovely infusion. In summer pair elder with mint in a cold infusion - add the plant material to cold water and leave for a few hours before drinking.

Make Elderflower Cordial - Elderflower makes a beautiful cordial - you can add this to sparkling water or even a gin. A simple search on google will give you lots of inspiration but here is a simple recipe:

Elderflower Cordial Recipe

  • 1.5kg sugar
  • 1.5 L water
  • 25 elderflowers (no stems)
  • 3 sliced lemons
  1. Dissolve the sugar and water and bring to boil until all sugar has dissolved.
  2. Place the elderflowers and lemons in a bowl and pour over the sugar water. Leave for 24 hours to infuse. 
  3. Strain the liquid to remove lemons and elderflowers.
  4. Bottle in clean and sterilised bottles, label with name and date and keep in fridge for 2 weeks.


Skye MacFarlane - Naturopath/Medical Herbalist for Wild Dispensary

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