”’Scientific Name”’: ”Sambucus nigra”
”’Also known as”’: elder, elderberry, black elder, european elder, european elderberry, european black elderberry
”’Habitat”’: Elder will grow in both wet and dry fertile soils. Primarily in sunny locations in woodland, scrub, hedgerows and wasteland. It often grows near rabbit warrens and badger setts where the seeds are distributed by animal droppings.
It is widespread in many temperate and sub-tropical regions of the world, and is native to the UK.
”’Description”’: Elder is usually found as a shrub or small tree (usually up to 6 meters, but has been recorded up to 10 meters) and can live for 60 years. It is commonly characterised by its short trunk.
* ”’Bark”’ – Grey-brown, corky, deeply furrowed bark, although younger specimens have smooth grey bark.
* ”’Twigs”’ – It has relatively few branches, but the green unpleasant smelling twigs are hollow or have a white pith (spongy tissue) inside.
* ”’Buds”’ – Buds have a ragged appearance often with leaves showing through the bud scales.
* ”’Leaves”’ – The leaves are pinnate with two to three opposite pairs (rarely four pairs) and a terminal leaflet. The leaflets are oval shaped and toothed and tend to be five to twelve centimeters long. The leaves make an unpleasant smell when crushed.
* ”’Flowers”’ – Borne on large flat umbels, 10-30cm across, the individual flowers are tiny, creamy coloured, highly scented, and have five petals and five stamen. The smell is often compared to cat pee, but I find it quite pleasant.
* ”’Fruits”’ – after pollination by insects, each flower develops into a small, purple-black, sour berry, which ripens from late-summer to autumn. Elders are hermaphrodite, meaning both the male and female reproductive parts are contained within the same flower.
”’Warnings”’: Every part of this plant, apart from the flowers and ripe berries, are considered toxic and should not be ingested. Some sensitivity to the ripe berries has been reported, and for those people the berries must be cooked before ingestion.
Other varieties of Sambucus have toxic berries, including the red-berried elder (for example).
==Pictures throughout the year==
File:20170218_101309C.jpg|Garden Elder in spring
File:Elder_Buds_Feb.jpg|Elder leaf buds
File:Elder_flowers2.jpg|Elder flowers in May
File:ElderFlowerHead.jpg|Elder flower head
File:ElderFlowerCloseup.jpg|Close up of Elder flower
File:ElderTree.jpg|Elder tree in bloom
Fruit – raw or cooked. The flavour of the raw fruit is not acceptable to many tastes, though when cooked it makes delicious jams, preserves, pies and so forth. It can be used fresh or dried, the dried fruit being less bitter. The fruit is used to add flavour and colour to preserves, jams, pies, sauces, chutneys etc, it is also often used to make wine.
Flowers – raw or cooked. They can also be dried for later use. The flowers are crisp and somewhat juicy, they have an aromatic smell and flavour and are delicious raw as a refreshing snack on a summers day, though look out for the insects. The flowers are used to add a muscatel flavour to stewed fruits, jellies and jams (especially gooseberry jam). They are often used to make a sparkling wine. A sweet tea is made from the dried flowers. The leaves are used to impart a green colouring to oils and fats.
Elder has a very long history of household use as a medicinal herb and is also much used by herbalists. The plant has been called ‘the medicine chest of country people’.
The flowers are the main part used in modern herbalism, though all parts of the plant have been used at times. Stimulant. The fresh flowers are used in the distillation of ‘Elder Flower Water’. The flowers can be preserved with salt to make them available for distillation later in the season. The water is mildly astringent and a gentle stimulant. It is mainly used as a vehicle for eye and skin lotions. The dried flowers are diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, galactogogue and pectoral. An infusion is very effective in the treatment of chest complaints and is also used to bathe inflamed eyes. The infusion is also a very good spring tonic and blood cleanser. Externally, the flowers are used in poultices to ease pain and abate inflammation. Used as an ointment, it treats chilblains, burns, wounds, scalds etc.
The inner bark is collected from young trees in the autumn and is best sun-dried. It is diuretic, a strong purgative and in large doses emetic. It is used in the treatment of constipation and arthritic conditions. An emollient ointment is made from the green inner bark.
The leaves can be used both fresh or dry. For drying, they are harvested in periods of fine weather during June and July. The leaves are purgative, but are more nauseous than the bark. They are also diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant and haemostatic. The juice is said to be a good treatment for inflamed eyes. An ointment made from the leaves is emollient and is used in the treatment of bruises, sprains, chilblains, wounds etc.
The fruit is depurative, weakly diaphoretic and gently laxative. A tea made from the dried berries is said to be a good remedy for colic and diarrhoea. The fruit is widely used for making wines, preserves etc., and these are said to retain the medicinal properties of the fruit.
The pith of young stems is used in treating burns and scalds.
The root is no longer used in herbal medicine but it formerly had a high reputation as an emetic and purgative that was very effective against dropsy. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh inner bark of young branches. It relieves asthmatic symptoms and spurious croup in children.
The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Sambucus nigra for cough and bronchitis, fevers and colds
The flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects and the berries are eaten by birds and mammals. Small mammals such as dormice and bank voles eat both the berries and the flowers.
Many moth caterpillars feed on elder foliage, including the white spotted pug, swallowtail, dot moth and buff ermine.
”’Mythology and symbolism”’
It was thought that if you burned elder wood you would see the devil, but if you planted elder by your house it would keep the devil away.
”’How we use elder”’
Elder wood is hard and yellow-white. Mature wood is used for whittling and carving, while smaller stems can be hollowed out to make craft items.
The flowers are often used to make wine, cordial or tea, or fried to make fritters. The vitamin C rich berries are often used to make preserves and wine, and can be baked in a pie with blackberries. They are also used to make natural dyes.
The leaves and stems are poisonous. The fruit of many species (although no records have been seen for this species) has been known to cause stomach upsets to some people. Any toxin the fruit might contain is liable to be of very low toxicity and is destroyed when the fruit is cooked.
The fruit ripens from August to September and can be picked by hand from the tree. A berry comb may be advantageous for these.
Walnut (Juglans regia), however, elder has oppositely arranged leaves whereas walnut has alternately arranged leaves.
Identified in winter by the green unpleasant smelling twigs are hollow or have a white pith (spongy tissue) inside. Buds have a ragged appearance often with leaves showing through the bud scales.
It is thought the name elder comes the Anglo-saxon ‘aeld’, meaning fire, because the hollow stems were used as bellows to blow air into the centre of a fire.
I have used elderberry syrup with hot water and rum to cure a cold in very short time (1-2 days).
Elder is often host to Jew’s Ear Fungus, and edible fungus used in Chinese cuisine.
* Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambucus_nigra
* Woodland Trust – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/native-trees/elder/
*PFAF – https://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?latinname=Sambucus+nigra