Scientific Classification:

Kingdom Plantae
Division Magnoliophyta
Class Magnoliopsida
Order Dipsacales
Family Adoxaceae
Genus Sambucus
Species S. nigra
Binomial name Sambucus nigra

Other Common Names:

The other common names for this particular herb are Black elder, black-berried European elder, boor tree, bountry, elder, ellanwood,ellhorn, European elder, German Elder and elderberry.


Elderberries have long been used as food, particularly in the dried form. Elderberry wine, pie, and lemonade are some of the popular ways to prepare this plant as food. These tiny pungent flavored berries are loaded with vitamin C and have long been used as an immune system ally. The Elder, with its flat-topped masses of creamy-white, fragrant blossoms, followed by large drooping bunches of purplish-black, juicy berries, is a familiar object in English countryside and gardens. It has been said, with some truth, that our English summer is not here until the Elder is fully in flower, and that it ends when the berries are ripe.

The word 'Elder' comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld. In Anglo-Saxon days we find the tree called Eldrun, which becomes Hyldor and Hyllantree in the fourteenth century. One of its names in modern German - Hollunder - is clearly derived from the same origin. A member of the honeysuckle family, this small tree has been cultivated since ancient times. Valued in making musical instruments, weaving needles, and of course elderberry wine.

There is some confusion among the different species, but the best studied is the European elder, S. nigra. Americans used S. candensis for the same medicinal purposes. In countryside's where the Elder flourishes it is certainly one of the most attractive features of the hedgerow, while its old-world associations have created for it a place in the hearts of English people.


Black elder may take the form of a shrub or small tree, 10 to 30 feet high. It is generally found in moist, shady places and among underbrush. It is also cultivated. Elderberries will differ considerably in form and taste. They grow on bushy shrubs a few feet high. Elder trees Elder trees can reach 50ft. Their clusters of aromatic, star-shaped white flowers vary from flat-topped bunches to globular arrays, which mature to berrylike fruits ranging in color from white and red to black.

The bark is light brown near the bottom of the stem, gray-white higher up, somewhat torn and stippled with warts. The leaves are opposite, odd-pinnate; the leaflets ovate, acuminate, finely serrate, dark green. The juice of the leaves snuffed up into the nostrils, purges the tunicles of the brain. A common tree with spreading branches and oval, sharp-pointed leaves serrated about the edges. The flowers grow in large flat umbels and are followed by small, round, deep purple berries, full of juice.


Elderberry grows in Europe and North America.


The preferred habitat of elderberries is in hedgerows and moist places.


Elderberry is popular for its purple black fruit which is used in pies, wines, jellies, jams, juices and soup (Figure 1). It can also be used as a natural colour in food products. Elderberry blossoms are also used in wine making or can be deep fried. Elderberry is an ornamental as well as a fruit plant, with its spectacular fragrant flowers and attractive fruits. In its natural habitat, the elderberry is commonly found on fertile, moist soils.

It is tolerant to a wide range of soil conditions, but grows best on well-drained loam soils. Good soil drainage should be considered in site selection. An open field located away from woods allows free air movement, reducing disease problems, frost and potential insect and bird damage. Elderberries are a perennial crop that requires proper soil preparation before planting. A soil test will help determine existing nutrient levels and ultimately the suitability of the site. On sandy soils or soils low in fertility, organic matter such as manure or peat should be incorporated prior to planting to increase moisture retention and provide nutrients. The site should be cultivated and properly drained prior to planting. Eradication of perennial weeds prior to planting by cultivation and/or herbicides will help improve plant establishment. On heavy or poorly drained soils, plant vigour may be improved by planting on raised beds.

Cross-pollination increases fruit production, therefore two or more cultivars should be planted in close proximity. Planting distances of 1 metre in the row and 4-5 metres between rows will establish a hedgerow within three growing seasons. In home gardens, plants may be closer together with at least 2 metres between plants in any direction. Planting should be done in early spring. The depth at which elderberry plants are set may vary as long as the roots are well covered and the soil firmly packed.

Elderberry plants need approximately 25 mm of water each week from bloom time to the end of harvest. If rainfall is lacking, plants should be irrigated for optimum plant growth and fruit production. Plants should also be watered if prolonged dry periods occur after harvest. During the first two seasons plants should be encouraged to grow vigorously with little to no pruning required. After the second year, pruning should be done annually in early spring. Elderberry fruits normally mature between mid-August and mid-September. Clusters ripen over a period of 5-15 days and are easy to harvest. Fruit in containers should not be held at room temperature for more than 2-4 hours as internal heating reduces quality and causes rapid spoilage. Yields of 12-15 lbs. (5.5-6.8 kg) of fruit can be expected per plant in 3-4 years if managed properly.

Parts Used


The most commonly used parts of the herb are root, bark, young shoots, leaves, flowers and fruit.

Flowering Season

The flowering season is said to be in the late spring. The berries are ripe in early autumn. In June and July black elder sports cymes of white to yellow white flowers, which develop into berries that turn from green through red-brown to shiny black.

Pests and Diseases

Birds are the major pest affecting elderberries. They eat the fruits, and can be a serious problem in small plantings. Control measures include noise cannons, distress calls and prompt harvesting of ripe fruit, but the most effective means is netting. The Jelly Ear fungus is frequently found on Elder trees.

Tomato Ringspot Virus is among the most serious diseases affecting elderberries. It is spread by nematodes and through pollen transfer. Dandelions and some other weeds can also carry this virus. It results in weakened plants, reduced productivity and eventually plant death. Stem and twig cankers (Cytospora, Nectria, and Sphaeropsis) are among the fungus diseases which can be controlled by pruning and burning of infected canes. Powdery mildew can affect canes and berries in late summer and early fall. It results in a grey appearance on the berries, but does not lower the quality of the juice. Leaf spotting fungi, thread blight, root rots, and Verticillium are among the less common diseases.

Medicinal Applications


• Elderberry is useful for Common cold/sore throat, herpes simplex, inflammation and influenza (flu), asthma, bronchitis and sinusitis.

• The flavonoids, including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic effects of the elderberry flowers and berries.

• Animal studies have shown the flowers to have anti-inflammatory properties.

• The leaves were touted to be pain relieving and to promote healing of injuries when applied as a poultice.

• Native Americans used the plant for infections, coughs, and skin conditions.

• The juice is especially good as a tonic for the reproductive and glandular system, and elderberry blossoms, when dried, can be used as a kidney tea which increases the production of urine and helps to eliminate excess water from the body.

• The tea of the flowers promotes perspiration and is used particularly for colds and for rheumatic complaints.

• An elderberry jam is mildly laxative and is suitable for irritated or inflamed intestines and for small children.

• The leaves are used for bruises, sprains, wounds and chilblain

• The juice of the green leaves applied to hot inflammations of the eyes assuages them.


It is under the dominion of Venus.

Quotes form History

The old traditions, say the Elder became the emblem of sorrow and death, and out of the legends which linger round the tree there grew up a host of superstitious fancies which still remain in the minds of simple country folk. An old custom among gypsies forbade them using the wood to kindle their camp fires and gleaners of firewood formerly would look carefully through the faggots lest a stick of Elder should have found its way into the bundle, perhaps because the Holy Cross was believed to have been fashioned out of a giant elder tree, though probably the superstitious awe of harming the Elder descended from old heathen myths of northern Europe.

In most countries, especially in Denmark, the Elder was intimately connected with magic. In its branches was supposed to dwell a dryad, Hylde-Moer, the Elder-tree Mother, who lived in the tree and watched over it. Should the tree be cut down and furniture be made of the wood, Hylde-Moer was believed to follow her property and haunt the owners.' The Russians believe that Elder-trees drive away evil spirits, and the Bohemians go to it with a spell to take away fever. The Sicilians think that sticks of its wood will kill serpents and drive away robbers, and the Serbs introduce a stick of Elder into their wedding ceremonies to bring good luck. A cross made of Elder and fastened to cowhouses and stables was supposed to keep all evil from the animals.'

The use of the Elder for funeral purposes was an old English custom referred to by Spenser. Green Elder branches were also buried in a grave to protect the dead from witches and evil spirits, and in some parts it was a custom for the driver of the hearse to carry a whip made of Elder wood.' The pith of the branches when cut in round, flat shapes, is dipped in oil, lighted, and then put to float in a glass of water; its light on Christmas Eve is thought to reveal to the owner all the witches and sorcerers in the neighborhood'; and again

Folklores and Myths

It was thought the Elder could not be hit by lightning, and so should be planted near the house. In the sixteenth century it was believed that the leaves of the elder should be gathered on the last day of April, and hung on doors and windows to prevent witches from entering the house. A twig of Elder carried close to the body, was thought to give good health and luck. The dried flowers, berries, leaves, or roots of ELDER are used for Protection and to ward off both natural and unnatural illness.

For Protection from Intrusion: Place a pinch of any form of ELDER in the four corners of the room and also in the room's center -- or, alternatively, hang some ELDER in bags above the front and back doors. This is said to provide protection against break-ins and also to shield one from prying eyes, both physical and spiritual. Some folks sprinkle ELDER FLOWERS, Poppy Seeds, and Oregano around a place of illegal business in the belief that Poppy Seeds confuse the cops, Oregano keeps them away, and no law officer will walk or drive over ELDER.