|Shrub in flower|
Sambucus nigra is a species complex of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae native to most of Europe and North America. Common names include elder, elderberry, black elder, European elder, European elderberry and European black elderberry. It grows in a variety of conditions including both wet and dry fertile soils, primarily in sunny locations.
The plant is a very common feature of hedgerows and scrubland in Britain and northern Europe, but is also widely grown as an ornamental shrub or small tree. Both the flowers and the berries have a long tradition of culinary use, primarily for cordial and wine.
The Latin specific epithet nigra means “black”, and refers to the colour of the berries. The English term for the tree is not believed to come from the word "old" but from the Anglo Saxon æld, meaning fire, because the hollow stems of the branches were used as bellows to blow air into a fire.
It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 6 m (20 ft) tall and wide, rarely 10 m (33 ft) tall). 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 (rarely nine) leaflets, the leaflets 5–12 cm long and 3–5 cm broad, with a serrated margin. The young stems are hollow.
The hermaphrodite flowers have five stamens and are borne in large, flat corymbs 10–25 cm diameter in late spring to mid summer, the individual flowers ivory white, 5–6 mm diameter, with five petals; they are pollinated by flies.
There are several other closely related species, native to Asia and North America, which are similar, and sometimes treated as subspecies of Sambucus nigra. The blue or Mexican elderberry, Sambucus mexicana, is now generally treated as one or two subspecies of Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis and Sambucus nigra subsp. caerulea.
- S. nigra f. porphyrophylla ‘Eva’
- S. nigra f. laciniata
- S. nigra f. porphyrophylla 'Gerda' (syn. 'Black Beauty')
The dark blue/purple berries can be eaten when fully ripe but are mildly poisonous in their unripe state. All green parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides (Vedel & Lange 1960). The berries are edible after cooking and can be used to make jam, jelly, chutney and Pontack sauce.
The flowerheads are commonly used in infusions, giving a very common refreshing drink in Northern Europe and the Balkans. Commercially these are sold as Elderflower cordial. In Europe, the flowers are made into a syrup or cordial (in Romanian: Socată, in Swedish: fläder(blom)saft, in Danish: hyldeblomstsaft / hyldedrik), which is diluted with water before drinking. The popularity of this traditional drink has recently encouraged some commercial soft drink producers to introduce elderflower-flavoured drinks (Fanta Shokata, Freaky Fläder). The flowers can also be dipped into a light batter and then fried to make elderflower fritters. In Scandinavia and Germany, soup made from the elder berry (e.g. the German Fliederbeersuppe) is a traditional meal.
Both flowers and berries can be made into elderberry wine, and in Hungary an elderberry brandy is made that requires 50 kg of fruit to produce 1 litre of brandy. In south-western Sweden, it is traditional to make a snaps liqueur flavoured with elderflower. Elderflowers are also used in liqueurs such as St-Germain, and in a mildly alcoholic sparkling elderflower 'champagne'.
This plant is used as a medicinal plant by native peoples and herbalists. Stembark, leaves, flowers, fruits, and root extracts are used in bronchitis, cough, upper respiratory cold infections, and fever.[medical citation needed]
Sambucus nigra fruits and flowers have been used in traditional Austrian medicine – internally (fruits as tea, jelly, juice, or syrup; flowers as tea or syrup) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and skin, and for viral infections, fever, colds, and influenza. The first book about the medicinal properties of the plant was written by German physician Martin Blochwich in the 1620s.
Elder rates as fair to good forage for animals such as mule deer, elk, sheep and small birds. It is classified as nesting habitat for many birds, including hummingbirds, warblers, and vireos. Elderberries are a favorite food for migrating band-tailed pigeons in northern California, which may sometimes strip an entire bush in a short time.
It is also good cover for large and small mammals.
Elder is cited as a poisonous plant for mammals, and as a weed in certain habitats. All parts of the plant except for the flowers and ripe berries (but including the ripe seeds) are poisonous, containing the cyanogenic glycoside sambunigrin (C14H17NO6, CAS number 99-19-4). The bark contains calcium oxalate crystals.
The strong-smelling foliage was used in the past, tied to a horse's mane, to keep flies away while riding.
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