Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Elder is a common deciduous shrub or small tree that is a member of the honeysuckle family. It grows to about 10 m tall with a typically twisted growth.  The leaves are stalked and pinnate with toothed margins which have a distinctive unpleasant smell. The flowers are also distinctive, creamy white and fragrant and appear between June and July in flat topped large clusters. Its fruit develops as clumps of small spherical berries in clusters drooping down which start red and ripen to a black colour. The fruit contains vitamin C, sugars, and organic acids. Elder is common in woods, hedgerows, and waste ground throughout Europe and into Western Siberia and the Caucasus.

Elder has long been used in homeopathy to treat fevers and arthritis (flowers) and as a mild laxative. An infusion of flowers (2 teaspoons in 250ml of boiling water for 10 minutes) has been known to reduce fevers. A cordial made from the berries can be used for colds and coughs due to its vitamin C content. Leaves are said to help treat bruises and sprains, the bark to treat epilepsy and the roots to treat Kidney problems. In fact the Elder was held in high regard by Druids and as shown above, the whole plant can be used to treat a wide range of aliments. Also the plant has other non medicinal uses, the Elderflower water is said to aid the skin, flowers and berries have long been made into wines and cordials and Elderflower cordial is widely available in many UK supermarkets. Dyes of black, green and violet can also be obtained from the plant.

What Culpepper says


I hold it needless to write any description of this, since every boy that plays with a pop-gun will not mistake another tree instead of elder: I shall therefore in this place only describe the dwarf-elder, called also dead-wort, and wall-wort.

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