This section is from the book "A Text Book Of Materia Medica, Being An Account Of The More Important Crude Drugs Of Vegetable And Animal Origin", by Henry G. Greenish. Also available from Amazon: A Text Book of Materia Medica : Being an Account of the More Important Crude Drugs of Vegetable and Animal Origin.
The common elder, Sambucus nigra, Linne (N.O. Caprifoliaceoe), is indigenous and common in England, and is distributed throughout the whole of central and southern Europe. It flowers in the early summer, producing large polychasial cymes, about 15 cm. in diameter, of small white flowers. The entire inflorescences are collected and allowed to remain in heaps for a few hours, during which they become slightly heated and the flowers drop off from the stalks. The latter are removed by sifting, and the flowers are either dried or preserved by mixing them with common salt. By this ' pickling ' the rather disagreeable odour of the fresh flowers is gradually changed to a pleasant fragrance. Either fresh or pickled flowers may be used for the preparation of elder-flower water, but that made from the fresh flowers has a distinct and unpleasant odour, which it is said to lose when redistilled after having been kept for some weeks. The fresh flowers, infused in melted lard, yield elder-flower ointment.
The flower consists of a three-celled, three-seeded, inferior ovary, five small green calyx-teeth, a white, rotate, mono-petalous corolla with five ovate or rounded lobes and a very short tube in which five stamens with short filaments and yellow anthers are inserted. The dried flowers, which are so shrivelled that their details are quite obscured, have a dingy brownish yellow colour and faint odour.
The student should examine the drug by boiling a little for a few moments in water and pouring on a plate to cool; in addition to the flowers, numerous portions of the stalks (pedicels), as well as occasional buds and immature fruits, may be readily seen under a lens.
He should observe
(a) The five-lobed monopetalous corolla,
(b) The yellow anthers of the stamens.
Elder flowers contain about 0.32 per cent, of volatile oil, possessing the odour of the flowers in a high degree. It is obtained by distilling the fresh flowers with water, saturating the distillate with salt and shaking it with ether. On evaporating the ethereal solution the oil is obtained as a yellowish buttery mass.
The flowers of various small composite plants (e.g. Achillea Millefolium, Linne) are said to have been used for adulterating elder flowers. The latter can be easily distinguished by the characters detailed above.
The flowers of the dwarf elder (Sambucus Ebulus, Linne), which, however, is a comparatively rare plant, are distinguished by their dark red anthers.
Elder flowers are chiefly used for the preparation of the distilled water.
The fresh ripe fruits contain tyrosin; the leaves and bark an alkaloid, sambucine, and a purgative principle. The leaves also contain the cyanogenetic glucoside sambunigrin, the glucoside of laevo-phenylglycollic acid (compare p. 38). Green elder ointment is prepared by infusing the leaves in a melted mixture of lard and suet.