Sambucus nigra

Plant Profiles

Sambucus nigra / Elder / Trom

Botanical Description

Elderberry is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 6 m (20 ft) tall and wide. The bark, light grey when young, changes to a coarse grey outer bark with lengthwise furrowing, lenticels prominent. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, 10–30 cm long, pinnate with five to seven leaflets, the leaflets 5–12 cm long and 3–5 cm broad, with a serrated margin. The young stems are hollow. The hermaphroditic flowers have five stamens, which are borne in large, flat corymbs 10–25 cm diameter in late spring to mid-summer, the individual flowers are ivory white, 5–6 mm diameter, with five petals; they are pollinated by flies.

The fruit is a glossy, dark purple to black berry 3–5 mm diameter, produced in drooping clusters in late autumn; they are an important food for many fruit-eating birds. The berries and flowers very much look like they are being offered out to the world. 

Location & Cultivation

Native to Europe.  Grows abundantly in woods, hedges, ditches and wasteland.  Now grows in most temperate regions.  Often cultivated. Propagated from cuttings in spring.  Self propagates from seed. Rich folklore attached which is discussed in more detail below. This plant perfectly illustrates how nature provides the medicine that we need in through the seasons – elderflowers appear during the hay fever season and the berries appear at the beginning of autumn when we often need a boost to the immune system.


Buds in spring, flowering tops – late spring, early summer. Berries in autumn.  Leave until ripe, but get there before the birds. Bark in early spring from two year old twigs

Myth & Folklore

There is a huge amount of myth and folklore surrounding this tree. It is said that the Little Elder Mother dwells in the tree, the Queen of the Underworld – like the hawthorn, the elder is thought to be a portal into a parallel realm to the earthly plane.

It is a tree of respect, boundaries and consent – much like the hawthorn and rowan trees. Strong ties to faery folklore (the most auspicious time for close contact of a faery is under an elder bush on midsummer’s eve). 

Pan Pipes – The God Pan – the wood offers itself as instrument – pipes, didgeridoos, flutes. The magic of life which bursts out in honest music.

There are many warnings around the tree cursing people which probably have their roots in the crusades against the magical arts and natural medicine. A part of this warning relates itself to the persistent myth that Christ was crucified on the wood of the elder, and that Judas hung himself from it’s branches. I have not found the Elder tree to insist on permission like a school teacher, but it certainly is a plant which commands respect and encourages good boundaries when working with it.

Native American people placed offerings under the tree when picking from them for use.

Jakub Saray has made didgeridoos from the tree and shares videos of their music on Youtube.

Taste / Energetics

Definitely drying, slightly sweet. 

Sometimes described as warming and sometimes as cooling.

Nikki Darrel suggests the flowers as cooling and the fruit as warming, some bitterness and sourness, a description I agree with. I find the flowers very slightly sweet as well.

Buds are expectorant, diaphoretic and purgative in large dose.


Flowers: Flavonoids-rutin, phenolic acids, triterpenes and triterpene acids, sterols, essential oil, mucilage, tannins, minerals especially high levels of potassium

Berries: Flavonoids, Anthocyanins, vitamins A and C, sambunigrin (cyanogenic glycoside), sambucine (alkaloid), organic acids and vitamins

Leaves Bark and Buds: Sambunigrin and sambucine. Bark also contains saponins.


Flowers: Diaphoretic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, mild nervine, bronchodilator, expectorant, immune-modulant, decongestant, febrifuge, relaxant, astringent

Berries: Laxative, nutritive, immune stimulant/immune modulant; at least as effective as Echinacea for colds and flus, alterative, expectorant, anti viral, antioxidant, antiinflammatory

Traditional & Current Uses

Respiratory System


  • Tones lining of upper respiratory tract by reducing oedema, increasing resistance to infection. 
  • Can be used as a gargle for pharyngitis, a mouthwash for sore gums or ulcers and an eyewash for conjunctivitis and sore, tired eyes.
  • Chronic catarrh, postnasal drip, allergic shiners under the eyes and also has a reputation for use in sleep apnoea 
  • Ear infections 
  • Hay fever
  • Sinusitis 
  • It’s decongestant and relaxant effects indicate it for bronchial congestion, asthma and tight coughs. 
  • A hot infusion of the flowers is excellent at the onset of colds, flu, fever, tonsillitis and laryngitis


  • Colds, flus and respiratory infections: Inhibitory to Influenza A and B, Herpes and may be helpful in HIV. Demonstrated in the effectiveness of the commercial preparation ‘’Sambucol’’ in its ability to increase cytokine production. Useful as a prophylactic and as a treatment. Though this is in fact more a modulatory action as opposed to a stimulant one – link to a more detailed analysis of this by Paul Bergner:
  • Ear infections

Digestion / Genitourinary


  • Antimicrobial and useful in treating candida. 
  • Heartburn, indigestion, gastritis, diarrhoea, colic and wind.
  • Arthritis and gout can be treated by promoting diuresis and sweating
  • Enhance kidney function, relieve fluid retention which help to eliminate toxins and heat (again a useful action for fever)


  • Nourishing the gut with fruit acids, proanthocyanidins and bioflavonoids. Also antimicrobial.
  • Mild laxative which is often used in the form of syrups for children., but can also be used to treat diarrhoea, presumably because the anthocyanins are anti-inflammatory for the bowel wall. Probably has benefits for the eyes similar to bilberry due to the high levels of anthocyanins
  • Useful for a swollen spleen (Wood)

Nervous System


  • Good for anxiety in the evening. This nervine aspect of the medicine seeps into everything, as a relaxed nervous system is less likely to participate in an auto-immune response. Great anxiolytic for children as it’s gentle taste is palatable and can encourage good rest when an infection is beginning to creep in.


  • Adaptogenic and increase resilience to stress



  • Diaphoretic action brings blood to the surface, diffusing heat from the core
  • Cold infusion for night sweats (Bartram)


  • Reduces LDL cholesterol and helps prevent atherosclerosis (again also in part due to the presence of proanthocyanidins)


  • A hydrosol from the flowers is called Eau de Sureau in France and is considered an excellent aftershave skin tonic – also useful for chilblains, wounds, bruises, swollen joints, skin eruptions, sunburn, piles, itchy conditions and as an insect repellant. 
  • Collagen stabilizing action which can help to heal connective tissue and reduce swelling in varicose veins, hemorrhoids, sprains and arthritis. 


  • Wood calls it the ‘great infant remedy’ – useful for blue and pale swelling as well as red, dry irritated skin of the cheeks.
  • Children with marbled skin and respiratory problems, skin problems or eczema.
  • Conditions of stagnant fluids and blood, or where the skin is dry, harsh and red. 
  • Useful for children who are strong and sanguine, seemingly hyperactive and experiencing difficult in social situations. (Wood).
  • Good for skin issues involving edema and weeping wounds (weeping eczema, indolent ulcers)
  • Leaves: Insect repellent. Purgative and emetic in large doses. Used externally to treat bruises, chilblains and strain. The leaves were infused in linseed to make Oleum viride.
  • Bark: A warming liver stimulant which can be purgative and emetic in large doses and is also diuretic. It has been used for arthritis and for stubborn constipation, as well as oedema (Culpepper mentions Dr. Butler as ‘’…commend[ing] Elder to the sky for dropsies’’.

Personal Experiences

  • Took a while to introduce itself, or rather for me to come to a place in myself in which I am ready to work with Elder at a deep level. I can feel the association with Pan, the wild call of nature which always has space for ways of being which are not permitted by mainstream culture – the whispers away from the pantheon to the cliffside cave. Something very alluring about the Elder tree, it’s beautiful fragrant blossoms are for me a doorway into summer. I have yet to do much work with the flowers but intend to do more this year. The berries I have done one proper harvest and made a lovely tincture with cloves thrown in – using this alongside good diet and exercise I avoided three waves of sickness coming through the house of 5 people. Very powerful protective action but its bond comes with a deep respect – the folklore surrounding the tree and of asking permission before harvesting from it did not come from nowhere. My sense of it is that when we work with Elder, we are literally warding off infections and dark spirits, and that one of the exchanges the tree asks for upon granting these gifts is that we deepen our understanding of nature and to protect the non-human life forms as they are also a part of our family, they are in the web just as we are. I was holding a Plant ID and medicine making workshop, the trail of which began with a lovely Elder tree in the hedgerow. This was the tree that I asked permission from to do the walk as it really felt like a kind of spokesbeing for the locale – it asked simply that I tell no lie and that I open myself to the messages the plants would like to bring through on this walk, and upon asking for an offering I reached into my pocket and pulled out a coin (as I was also asking the Elder if I could make money from taking people into this area, from talking about these plants, it was fitting), and on the back of the coin was a plant – an odd coincidence. It granted me permission and the area has become special to me for lots of reasons now, I feel like I am one of its caretakers.
  • I would love to make a didgeridoo from the wood. 
  • It’s ability to protect against and to assist in clearing infection is clear  – I have been repeatedly told by those who have used its syrups, teas and tinctures in both flower and berry form that the remedies have worked very well. Note that some herbalists believe that it will be tolerated by people here far better than Echinacea as it is a native plant. 

Ganoderma lucidum

Plant Profiles

Ganoderma lucidum
Reishi, Lingzhi

Botanical Description

Lingzhi, also known as reishi, is a polypore fungus (also referred to as a bracket fungus) belonging to the genus Ganoderma. Its red-varnished, kidney-shaped cap and peripherally inserted stem gives it a distinct fan-like appearance. When fresh, the lingzhi is soft, cork-like, and flat. It lacks gills on its underside and depending on its age the underside may be white or brown. It can also grow in an ‘antler’ shape in poorly ventilated settings.

Location & Cultivation

Ganoderma lucidum can be found on the hardwoods (especially oaks) of warmer regions of its native Asia, the South Pacific & the Southeastern USA. It is thought to be very difficult to find in the wild but given it’s reputation as a medicine it is widely cultivated in habitats where it is happy to grow. Cultivating it at home may require a dedicated space in which fungus of Ganoderma lucidum is mixed with wood pulp and kept in a warm and humid environment with shaded lighting. Some growers create huge walls of plastic grow bags containing Ganoderma spores, and time the tearing of the bags to expose the mushrooms to CO2 to produce the flat caps.


It is not to be found in Western Europe, but for those who live close to it, wild crafting requires great determination and also great care as it is so precious in the wild, so following the ‘take only what you need’ philosophy remains true. If harvesting cultivated mushrooms, one may be able to harvest 2 or 3 crops from one plant if it is well looked after. Some growers recommend finding the perfect balance of ventilation to encourage the ‘antler’ shape of growth in the mushroom, which can grow up to 3 feet in length before harvesting. Different companies sell grow kits and spores for home inoculation.
There are various ways of preparing Ganoderma, and one can find 1:3 tinctures, decocted tinctures and recently I had heard of a ‘russian extract’ which is 3:1. Double extracted methods are generally thought of as important as valuable immunomodulating polysaccharides will only be released from the durable chitin in the mushroom when it is simmered for quite a long time. The alcohol helps to extract the terpenes which are antioxidant and antiinflammatory. 

History / Folklore

The history of humans using Ganoderma lucidum is over 2000 years old. It’s local name in China is Lingzhi, translating to ‘The Plant of Immortality’. In TCM  it is closely affiliated with the heart and the brain, connecting the middle and upper cauldrons in preserving and improving memory & capacity for clear thinking, and also for treating constrictions of the heart qi. The goddess of healing Guanyin is sometimes depicted as holding a reishi mushroom, a real testament to its cultural reverence. The mushroom has long been touted as one that relaxes the heart and calms the nerves while encouraging a sustainable regeneration of qi.

Taste / Energetics

Salty, meaty, bitter, slightly drying, slightly warming 


Polysaccharides, glucans, adenosine, triterpenes, protein, phytosterols, lipids, ganasterone, vitamines C, B2


Tonic, immune-stimulant, hypoglycaemic, anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, expectorant, adrenal stimulant, radiation protective, cardiotonic

Traditional & Current Uses

Circulatory System

• Cardio-tonic, so enhances normal heart function, improves coronary artery circulation and protects against heart attacks.
• Can relieve palpitations & arrhythmias, prevent clots, lower cholesterol, normalises blood pressure and prevents atherosclerosis. 
• Ganoderic acid is known to thin blood and reduce inflammation, thereby lowering the tendency to clotting.
• Increases the level of O2 in the blood and has been used in treating altitude sickness.


• As an immunomodulant, Ganoderma lucidum and it’s polysaccharides enhance immunity with T-Cell activity, leukocytes and macrophage activity.
• It has been well studied as a treatment for cancer and is widely used as a complement to chemo and radio therapies. It inhibits metastasis by inhibiting platelet aggregation.
• Antibacterial to Staphylococci and Streptococci bacteria and antifungal so useful for treating candida. 
• Balances and builds the ‘pro-inflammatory’ side of the adrenal cortex – that is, the ‘mineralocorticoid’ side that supports the inflammatory side of the immune response. It does not act on the ‘anti-inflammatory’ or glucocorticoid side, which suppresses the immune response. Thus it reduces autoimmune excess and is helpful in autoimmune diseases of many kinds including myasthenia gravis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
• Helpful for allergies as it’s sulphur compounds inhibit histamine release from mast cells, and also as it helps modulate overactive immune response, and is also a nervine (a state of calmness is less likely to provoke an autoimmune flare).
• It has a steroidal compound called gandosterone that is hepatoprotective and is beneficial in hepatitis and in cirrhosis. 
• Can be used for HIV, Herpes, hepatitis B and C, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, acute myeloid leukemia and nasopharyngeal carcinomas. 

Nervous System
• Ganoderma lucidum is adaptogenic, is neuro-protective and increases resilience to stress. It improves adrenal function, sleep quality and appetite so can be a wonderful ally for burnout or when one knows there is a particularly busy time on the horizon.
• It has been known to reduce anxiety and protects against neurological problems. 

• As an antimicrobial, Ganoderma is also a nourishing tonic to the gut.

Avoid use  with anyone who has a mushroom allergy. Note that some with very weak digestive function may have trouble digesting the B-Glucans in which case build the digestive fire and perhaps try again. In large doses it has been observed to cause diarrhea. 

Preparation & Dosage
A decoction can also be used. Myconutri and other suppliers provide powders and capsules which may also be of benefit.
• Can be useful to prescribe as part of an evening blend. In a powder mix, it could be blended with other powders such as Withania and gently warmed in oat milk to make a nourishing and relaxing evening tea. 

• My initial connection with Ganoderma was meeting it alive in a plant shop I worked in, seeing it’s vibrancy and also something mysterious about it, the mystery of how it actually does what it does. My clinical use of it stems from a tutor of mine including it in many of her prescriptions and her testament to how effective it has been for autoimmune conditions. There is deeply regenerative earth energy here. As an ally that strengthens, relaxes and encourages healthy immune response, Ganoderma can help tune us to a place from which we establish a more coherent, calm and appropriate response to the world around us – a process of healing and transformation that medicinal mushrooms appear to be very good at doing.
• Wood describes his friend Don Babineau saying of Ganoderma tsugae that it ‘Looks like fire and restores fire to the system’. 

Californian Poppy

Plant Profiles
Escholzia californica
Californian Poppy

Family: Papaveraceae

Part used:  Usual practise is to harvest the whole plant fresh, including the roots and the seed pods for tinctures. Some just harvest the aerial parts, especially for the tea.

Botanical Description

Technically a perennial plant but is treated by most growers as an annual. It is a perennial or annual plant growing to 13–152 cm tall with alternately branching blue-green foliage. The leaves are alternately divided into round, lobed segments. The flowers are solitary on long stems, silky-textured, with four petals, each petal 2 to 6 cm long and broad; flower color ranges through yellow, orange and red, with some pinks. Flowering occurs from February to September in the northern hemisphere (spring, summer, fall). The petals close at night or in cold, windy weather and open again the following morning, although they may remain closed in cloudy weather. The fruit is a slender, dehiscent capsule 3 to 9 cm long, which splits in two to release numerous small black or dark brown seeds. It survives mild winters in its native range, dying completely in colder climates. 

Location, Cultivation & Harvesting

Native to the western regions of North America. Grows readily from seed and preferably in light, sandy soil. Seed can be scattered by hand into very shallow furrows or simply sown on the surface of the soil and lightly pressed in. If no rain follows and the soil is very dry, be sure to keep the soil moist to promote germination. California poppy does not like to be transplanted, so it is best that it is sown where it is grown.
Harvest: 40-60 days of growing should see the plant to full bloom. It blooms for so long – at the time of writing it is mid-November here in Ireland (albeit everything is late this year) and the poppies are still going for it.

History & Folklore

It’s latin name is imprinted by a colonial expedition of a Russian ship in the 19th century. On board was German surgeon and naturalist Friedrich Gustav von Eschscholtz, who saw the San Francisco Bay area hills emblazoned with California Poppy. It was used by indigenous cultures to the area as food, boiled or steamed. 

Taste / Energetics

Bitter with a hint of sweet ; cooling



Morphine alkaloids (inc. protopine, sanguinarine, chelerythrine), eschscholtzione, glycosides)

Sedative, hypnotic, antispasmodic, anodyne, nervine, febrifuge

Traditional & Current Uses

Upper Cauldron
• Though a cousin to the opium poppy, Californian poppy is far less potent. It provides safe sedative medicine to calm down over excited states, cool down hot anxiety, tension and insomniac states. It is suitable for calming hyperactive children; there is widely reported success with helping little ones in getting to sleep.
• Brings down overactive yang energy, helping to cool down states of heat and bringing some water to the fire.
• Anodyne and relaxing, and can be good for migraines, headaches, neuralgia, back and muscle pain, arthritis, sciatica & shingles. 

Middle Cauldron

• It can help slow a rapid heart rate, relieve palpitations and reduce blood pressure

Lower Cauldron

• As it is an antispasmodic herb, Californian poppy can help to relax the gut and relieve colic in the stomach and gallbladder.