Scientific Name: Sambucus nigra
Elderberry is a deciduous, hardy, perennial shrub or multi-stemmed tree, with pinnate leaves, each divided into 5 ovate toothed leaflets. Its spreading branches bear large, flat heads of fragrant, small star-shaped, creamy-white flowers in late spring and early summer — followed in autumn by drooping clusters of purple-black berries. It prefers full-sun, will tolerate most soils and needs to be cut back hard at the end of winter.
Elderberry is native to Europe, Asia and North-Africa where it grows in woods, hedges and on waste ground. It is found in almost all temperate regions. There is much folklore attached to Elderberry and ancient legends link it with magic. People believed that it was good to plant it outside their back door to protect them from evil and to keep witches out of their houses. It was also believed that Christ's cross was made from elder wood.
Harvest and parts used
Elderberry leaves are picked in summer and used fresh. The bark is stripped in late winter before new leaves appear, and dried for decoctions. Fully open Elderberry flower heads are collected and dried whole. The flowers are then stripped off for infusions, extracts, ointments and tinctures. The fruits are harvested when ripe, separated from the stalks and eaten fresh or for juice — or dried to use in decoctions, syrups and tinctures.
Elderberry flower heads can be coated with a thin batter and deep fried. The flowers are made into cordials and will give a muscatel flavour to stewed fruit, jellies and gooseberry jam.
Elderberry fruit (berries) is rich in Vitamin C — add them to sauces, jams, jellies, wines, chutney and ketchups — and to add flavour and colour to stewed fruit and jellies. For centuries Elderberry wine has been made from both the berries and the flowers.
Elderberry has innumerable uses and has for centuries been called the "medicine chest of the country people" — providing remedies for most common complaints. All parts of the Elderberry plant are used medicinally.
An infusion of Elderberry flowers can be used to treat coughs, colds and flu — it is relaxing and produces a mild perspiration that reduces fever. If taken for some months before the hay fever season begins, it can reduce the severity of hay fever attacks. It tones the mucus linings of the nose and throat, increasing resistance against infections and helps chronic congestion, allergies, ear infections and candidiasis. Elderberry is also valuable for arthritic conditions by promoting sweating and urine production that aids the removal of waste products from the body and thus, the joints. The flowers can also be made into an ointment to treat bruises and sprains. An infusion of Elderberry leaves can be used as a wash for minor burns, chillblains, inflamed skin and sore eyes — and as a gargle for mouth ulcers, tonsillitis and sore throats.
Apply an infusion of Elderberry flowers to whiten and soften the skin and to remove freckles.