Elias Durand was born Élie Maloire Durand in Mayenne, France, on January 25, 1794. In 1808, he apprenticed with a local pharmacist, and in 1812 he moved to Paris, where he became certified as a pharmacist for Napoléon's army. Durand spent the next year studying in Paris, and in 1813 received a military commission as Pharmacien sous aide for the Fifth Corps. After being taken prisoner in present-day Germany, Durand escaped to Nantes, France, where he continued his pharmacological and botanical studies. He served in the National Guard following Napoléon's return from exile and moved to the United States in July 1816.
Durand worked for several pharmacists in Boston and Baltimore before moving to Philadelphia in 1824, where he established his own pharmacy. Capitalizing on his knowledge of scientific developments in Europe, he became a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and a corresponding member of the Societé de Pharmacie of Paris. After his retirement in 1852, he pursued his interest in botany, establishing a large herbarium. Durand married twice, to Polymnia Rose Ducatel (d. 1822) and Marie Antoinette Berauld. He died on August 14, 1873.