Medicinal plants in the Frome Valley

May 10 2016

From mid-April this year, the buds of elderflowers have appeared on the elder shrubs and trees dotted along the riverbanks and in nearby parks. Elderflowers are still widely used to make a cordial or wine, but the elder is perhaps less well known for its medicinal properties.

From mid-April this year, the buds of elderflowers have appeared on the elder shrubs and trees dotted along the riverbanks and in nearby parks. Elderflowers are still widely used to make a cordial or wine, but the elder is perhaps less well known for its medicinal properties.
There is a great deal of folklore and magic associated with the plant – it was said to offer protection against evil spirits, and it was considered very bad luck to cut it down.
Culpeper, the 17th-century herbalist, describes boiling the bark and root to provoke violent purges, a popular form of treatment at the time. His contemporary John Evelyn wrote “If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark & berries were thoroughly known, I cannot tell what our country-men could ail, for which he might not fetch a remedy’.
Nowadays we use the flowers and berries, and the leaves externally in an ointment for bruises. The blossom induces sweating to break a fever, and helps reduce catarrh. It can also be effective against hay fever and respiratory infections generally. A good remedy for the onset of a cold or flu is a tea made of elderflowers, peppermint and yarrow.
The berries have anti-viral properties and can help you get over colds and flu more quickly – they are very useful in the winter months. They can be made into a syrup, or a ‘rob’, which is a thick juice. When cooked, they can also act as a mild laxative, though do not be tempted to eat large quantities raw! Mrs Grieve, in her book ‘A Modern Herbal’, has the following recipe:
Take 5 lb of crushed berries. Simmer with 1 lb of sugar until has the thickness of honey. 1-2 tablespoons can be taken with hot water at night as a cordial.
There are many variations of recipes for elderflower cordial, but it is important to preserve with enough sugar, otherwise it can go mouldy quite quickly. When you pick the flowerheads, make sure you leave some on the tree!
20 flowerheads, 2 kg sugar, 1.5 litres water, 2 lemons, 50 gr citric acid
Put the flowerheads on newspaper to allow some of the bugs to escape. Simmer the sugar & water solution until the sugar has dissolved. Add flowerheads, peeled lemon zest, chopped lemons and citric acid. Stir and cover with a cloth. Leave between 1-4 days, stirring daily. Strain, bottle and keep in the fridge, or freeze in ice cube trays.
Ruth Baker
Medical Herbalist