Elder Flowers. Sambucus, N. F. IV. Elder. Sambuci Flores, Br. 1898. Sweet Elder, Black Elderberry. Sureau, Fr. Cod. Fleurs de Sureau, Hollunder, Fliederblumen, G. Sambuco, It. Sauco (Flor de), Sp.—"The air-dried flowers of Sambucus canadensis Linne or of Sambucus nigra Linne (Fam. Caprifoliacece), separated from the peduncles and pedicels." N. F. The common elder, Sambucus nigra, of Europe, differs from the American most obviously in its size, the former approaching in height that of a small tree. The stem is much branched towards the top, and has a rough whitish bark. The leaves are narrower. The flowers are small, whitish and in five-parted cymes. The ovary consists of but three carpels, there being five cells in S. canadensis L. The berries are larger in the European elder, globular, and blackish-purple when ripe. A fungus growing on this plant, called fungus sambuci, has been used as a local application in conjunctivitis. According to Steckel, it is capable of taking up from 9 to 12 times its weight of water. (N. R. Pharm., xiii, 476, 1864.) G. De Sanctis (Gazz. Chim. Ital., 1895, xxv, 1, vol. xlix) obtained coniine from the leaves and stems of Sambucus nigra.
The indigenous common elder, Sambucus canadensis, is a shrub from six to ten feet high, with a branching stem, covered with a rough gray bark, and containing a large spongy pith. The small branches and leaf-stalks are very smooth. The leaves are opposite, pinnate, sometimes bipinnate, and composed usually of five to nine oblong-oval, acuminate, smooth, shining, deep-green leaflets; the veins of the under surface are somewhat pubescent. The flowers are small, white, and disposed in loose cymes; the cream-colored corolla is wheel-shaped, with five stamens on the tube. The berries are small, globular, and deep purple when ripe. The shrubs grow in low, moist grounds, along fences, and on the borders of small streams, throughout the United States, from Canada to the Carolinas, and westward as far as Arizona and Texas. It flowers from May to July, and ripens its fruit early in autumn. The flowers were official in the U. S. P., 1890, and Br. Pharm., 1898, and are now recognized by the N. F. IV. They have an aromatic though rather heavy odor. The berries as well as other parts of the plant are employed, in domestic practice, for the same purposes as the corresponding parts of the European elder, to which this species bears a close affinity.
They are described by the N. F. as follows:
"Small, from 2 to 3 mm. in breadth, shrivelled; calyx superior, five-lobed; corolla cream-colored to brownish-yellow, rotate, flat or slightly campanulate, regularly five-lobed; stamens five inserted at the base of the corolla, and alternating with its lobes, filaments slender, anthers oblong, yellow; pollen ellipsoidal or tetrahedral and rounded, covered with finely punctate markings and having three pores. Odor faintly sweet and aromatic; taste slightly bitter. Sambucus yields not more than 8 per cent. of ash." N. F.
The flowers yield their active properties to water by infusion, and when distilled give over a small proportion of volatile oil, which on cooling assumes a butyraceous consistence and contains an appreciable portion of ammonia. The berries are nearly inodorous, but have a sweetish, acidulous taste, dependent on the presence of saccharine matter and malic acid. Their expressed juice is susceptible of fermentation, and forms a vinous liquor used in Northern Europe. It is colored violet by alkalies, and bright red by acids, and the coloring matter is precipitated blue by lead acetate. The inner bark is without odor. Its taste is at first sweetish, afterwards slightly bitter, acrid, and nauseous. Both water and alcohol extract its virtues, which are said to reside especially in the green layer between the liber and the epidermis. According to Simon, the active principle of the inner bark of the root is a soft resin, which may be obtained by exhausting the powdered bark with alcohol, filtering the tincture, evaporating to the consistence of syrup, then adding ether, which dissolves the active matter, and finally evaporating to the consistence of a thick extract. Of this, twenty grains produce brisk vomiting and purging. (Ann. Ph. Ch., xxxi, 262.) The bark, analyzed by Kramer, yielded an acid called by him viburnic acid (which has proved to be identical with valeric acid), traces of volatile oil, albumen, resin, fat, wax, chlorophyll, tannic acid, grape sugar, gum, extractive, starch, pectin, and various alkaline and earthy salts. (Chem. Gas., May, 1846; from A. Pharm.) C. G. Traub found in the bark valeric acid, volatile oil, fat, resin, tannin, sugar, and coloring matter. (A. J. P., 1881, p. 392.) J. B. Metzgar made a partial examination of the fruit and found sugar, gum, tannin, fat, and a resinous body. (A. J. P., 1881, p. 553.) It was also examined by F. F. Lyons (A. J. P., 1892, p. 1), who found 0.5 per cent. of a volatile oil, an amorphous yellow compound of a glucosidal character, and a tannin. The volatile oil of elder flowers was examined by W. J. Bush & Co. (C. D., 1897, 53.) It has the sp. gr. 0.827, and is solid at ordinary temperatures like oil of rose. The liquid portion possesses the fragrance of fresh elder blossoms.
The flowers are gently excitant and sudorific, but are seldom used. The berries are diaphoretic and aperient, and their inspissated juice has been used as an alterative in rheumatism and syphilis in doses of from one to two drachms (3.9-7.7 Gm.); also as a laxative in doses of half an ounce (15.5 Gm.) or more. The inner bark is a hydragogue cathartic, and in large doses emetic. It has been employed in dropsy, epilepsy, and as an alterative in various chronic diseases. An ounce may be boiled with two pints of water to a pint, and four fluidounces (118 mils) given for a dose. It is also used in vinous infusion. The leaves are not without activity, and the young leaf-buds are said to be a violent and even unsafe purgative. The juice of the root has been highly recommended in dropsy as a hydragogue cathartic, sometimes acting as an emetic, in the dose of a tablespoonful, repeated pro re nata. The fruits of the California species S. glauca and S. racemosa are said to be used as food by the Indians. According to Combemale, confirmed by Lemoine, the aqueous solution of the European elder, S. nigra, is a very active diuretic, also causing in the lower animals, when given in sufficient amount, a pronounced fall of temperature, pulse, and respiration. It was found very useful in cardiac and renal dropsies. The drug itself sometimes caused vomiting and purging, but this effect never followed the use of the decoction. Elder-flower water was official in the Br., 1898, and was made by distilling one-fifth of the volume from a mixture of 10 pounds (Imperial) or 500.0 Gm. of fresh elder flowers, and 5 gallons (Imp. meas.) or 25 liters of water. In the N. F. they are an ingredient in compound fluidextract of stillingia and laxative species. Dose, from one to two drachms (3.9-7.7 Gm.); as a laxative, half an ounce (15.5 Gm.) or more.