San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Elderberry (Saúco) Sambucus mexicana UMBELLIFERAE

Geo-distribution: Foundin most of the coolerregions of tropical Mesoamerica,along streamsand marshy areas, as wellas planted around housesin Costa Rica for medicinal use.Botanical Description: A shrub with a gray barkand scaly stems. The compound leaves have fiveovate-lancelet leaflets with serrated edges. Thesmall, numerous, pastel yellow-white flowersare born on umbels. The small black fruits aresix millimeters in diameter, but are rarely seenbecause many birds feed on them as they ripen.Medicinal Uses: Elderberry is a febrifuge, diuretic and expectorant. The flowers havebeen used as an emergency medicine for treating fevers, colds, coughs, bronchitis,measles, mumps and flu. An infusion of the leaves as a hair wash is said to helpincrease hair growth. A decoction of the leaves, bark or root is used as a wash forexternal skin problems.Preparation: The flowers can be used fresh or collected in the blooming season, thendried and stored for future use. Use one handful of fresh flowers or 1-2 tablespoons ofdried flowers steeped in one liter of boiled water. Take 1-3 cups per day. A handful ofthe leaves, roots and bark can be boiled in one liter of water for treating skin conditions.Notes: Although the flowers and berries are safe to use, the roots and bark are said tobe slightly toxic and are not recommended for internal use. Elderberry is a valuablehome-garden medicinal plant that is easy to grow in the cooler regions of the country.Simply take woody stem cuttings approximately 30 centimeters long from maturebushes, and plant them 15 cm deep in plastic nursery bags with prepared potting soil.Keep the cuttings watered and in a shady place until well established. Slowly bringthem into full light conditions and plant them in permanent sites around the border ofthe garden, since they grow into large bushes. Many campesinos simply plant the stemcuttings directly in the soil in their permanent sites; however, the previously mentionedmethod guarantees a better success rate of cuttings that actually grow.For more information on medicinal plants and home gardening in the tropics, or contact us at

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