|Shrub in flower|
Sambucus nigra is a species complex of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae native to most of Europe. 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.
It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 6 m (20 ft) tall and wide (rarely 10m tall). The bark, light grey when young, changes to a coarse grey outer bark with lengthwise furrowing. 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 hermaphrodite flowers 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 'Aurea' 
- S. nigra '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), 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 traditionally used as a medicinal plant by many native peoples and herbalists alike. Stembark, leaves, flowers, fruits, and root extracts are used to treat bronchitis, cough, upper respiratory cold infections, and fever.
In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) was shown to be effective for treating Influenza B. People using the elderberry extract recovered much faster than those only on a placebo. The study was published in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine.
A small study published in 2004 showed that 93% of flu patients given extract were completely symptom-free within two days; those taking a placebo recovered in about six days. This current study shows that it works for type A flu, reports lead researcher Erling Thom, with the University of Oslo in Norway. Further study confirmed the beneficial effect of elderberry on Influenza.
Elderberry flowers are sold in Ukrainian and Russian drugstores for relief of congestion, specifically as an expectorant to relieve dry cough and make it productive. The dried flowers are simmered for 15 minutes, and the resulting flavorful and aromatic tea is poured through a coffee filter. Some individuals find it better hot, others cold, and some may experience an allergic reaction.
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 flu.
Some studies have been done on Sambucus nigra extract and its ability to act like insulin in treating diabetes due to its richness in anthocyanins, which also reduces oxidative stress. It increased glucose uptake by 70%, glucose oxidation by 50%, and glycogenesis by 70% on average. It is likely that the extract uses similar pathways that insulin does, but also stimulates insulin secretion. Similar findings of plant extracts that improve glucose uptake have been discovered in mushrooms, coriander, mistletoe, eucalyptus, lucerne, and agrimony.
Like other elderberries, Sambucus nigra is subject to elder whitewash fungus.
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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