- This page is about the plant. For other uses of the word Elder, see the disambiguation page Elder.
|Elderberry or Elder|
|Black Elder (Sambucus nigra)|
Black Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder or Elderberry (Sambucus) is a genus of between 5–30 species of shrubs or small trees (two species herbaceous), formerly treated in the honeysuckle family Caprifoliaceae, but now shown by genetic evidence to be correctly classified in the moschatel family Adoxaceae. The genus is native to temperate to subtropical regions of both the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere; the genus is more widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, with Southern Hemisphere occurrence restricted to parts of Australasia and South America.
The leaves are opposite, pinnate, with 5-9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11), each leaf 5-30 cm long, the leaflets with a serrated margin. They bear large clusters of small white or cream coloured flowers in the late spring, that are followed by clusters of small red, bluish or black (rarely yellow or white) berries. Species have lifespans between 80 and 100 years.
The berries are a very valuable food resource for many birds. Elders are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Brown-tail, Buff Ermine, Dot Moth, Emperor Moth, The Engrailed, Swallow-tailed Moth and The V-pug. The crushed foliage and immature fruit have a strong fetid smell. Dead elder wood is the preferred habitat of the mushroom Auricularia auricula-judae, also known as "Judas' ear fungus".
Valley elderberry longhorn beetle in California are very often found around red or blue elderberry bushes. Females lay their eggs on the bark. Larvae hatch and burrow into the stems.
- The common elder complex is variously treated as a single species Sambucus nigra found in the warmer parts of Europe and North America with several regional varieties or subspecies, or else as a group of several similar species. The flowers are in flat corymbs, and the berries are black to glaucous blue; they are larger shrubs, reaching 5–8 m tall, occasionally small trees up to 15 m tall and with a stem diameter of up to 30–60 cm.
- Sambucus australis (Southern Elder; temperate eastern South America)
- Sambucus canadensis (American Elder; eastern North America; with blue-black berries)
- Sambucus cerulea (syn. S. caerulea, S. glauca; Blueberry Elder; western North America; with blue berries)
- Sambucus javanica (Chinese Elder; southeastern Asia)
- Sambucus mexicana (Mexican Elder; Mexico and Central America; with blue-black berries)
- Sambucus nigra (Black Elder; Europe and western Asia; with black berries)
- Sambucus palmensis (Canary Islands Elder; Canary Islands; with black berries)
- Sambucus peruviana (Peruvian Elder; northwest South America; with black berries)
- Sambucus simpsonii (Florida Elder; southeastern United States; with blue-black berries)
- Sambucus peruviana (Andean Elder; northern South America; with blue-black berries)
- Sambucus velutina (Velvet Elder; southwestern North America; with blue-black berries)
- The Blackberry Elder Sambucus melanocarpa of western North America is intermediate between the preceding and next groups. The flowers are in rounded panicles, but the berries are black; it is a small shrub, rarely exceeding 3–4 m tall. Some botanists include it in the red-berried elder group.
- The red-berried elder complex is variously treated as a single species Sambucus racemosa found throughout the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere with several regional varieties or subspecies, or else as a group of several similar species. The flowers are in rounded panicles, and the berries are bright red; they are smaller shrubs, rarely exceeding 3–4 m tall.
- Sambucus callicarpa (Pacific Coast Red Elder; west coast of North America)
- Sambucus chinensis (Chinese Red Elder; eastern Asia, in mountains)
- Sambucus latipinna (Korean Red Elder; Korea, southeast Siberia)
- Sambucus microbotrys (Mountain Red Elder; southwest North America, in mountains)
- Sambucus pubens (American Red Elder; northern North America)
- Sambucus racemosa (European Red Elder or Red-berried Elder; northern Europe, northwest Asia)
- Sambucus sieboldiana (Japanese Red Elder; Japan and Korea)
- Sambucus tigranii (Caucasus Red Elder; southwest Asia, in mountains)
- Sambucus williamsii (North China Red Elder; northeast Asia)
- The Australian elder group comprises two species from Australasia. The flowers are in rounded panicles, and the berries white or yellow; they are shrubs growing to 3 m high.
- The dwarf elders are, by contrast to the other species, herbaceous plants, producing new stems each year from a perennial root system; they grow to 1.5–2 m tall, each stem terminating in a large flat umbel which matures into a dense cluster of glossy berries.
Both flowers and berries can be made into elderberry wine, and in Hungary an elderberry brandy is produced (requiring 50 kg of fruit to produce 1 litre of brandy). The alcoholic drink sambuca is made by infusing elderberries and anise into alcohol. The berries are best not eaten raw as they are mildly poisonous, causing vomiting, particularly if eaten unripe. The mild cyanide toxicity is destroyed by cooking. The berries can also be made into jam, pies or Pontack sauce. All green parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides (Vedel & Lange 1960).
The flowers may be used to make an herbal tea, which is believed as a remedy for colds and fever. In Europe, the flowers are made into a syrup or cordial (in Romanian: Socată), 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). The flowers can also be used to make a mildly alcoholic, sparkling elderflower 'champagne'.
A few clinical studies have shown effectiveness of Sambucol, a formulation based on an extract of elderberry, in the treatment of both adults and children with either type A or B influenza. Sambucol reduced both the severity and duration of flu symptoms in otherwise healthy subjects, but should not be considered a substitute for influenza vaccination in high risk individuals . An in vitro study of Sambucol showed possible effectivness against the H5N1 avian influenza virus .
The elder was formerly held to be unlucky to have in the garden. If an elder tree was cut down, a spirit known as the Elder Mother would be released and take her revenge; shown in one way by a poem known as the Wiccan Rede where one line reads, "Elder be the Lady's tree, burn it not or cursed you'll be." This may derive from ancient Pagan beliefs, which held the elder sacred to the Moon Goddess. The tree could only safely be cut while chanting a rhyme to the Elder Mother.
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- Howard, Michael. Traditional Folk Remedies (Century, 1987); pp. 134-5
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Sambucus
- National Institute of Health - Medline page on Sambucus nigra L.
- Vedel, H., & Lange, J. (1960). Trees and Bushes in Wood and Hedgerow. Methuen & Co Ltd.
- Elder bush info and recipes from the BBC Guide to Life, the Universe, and Everything website.
- Grieve, 'A Modern Herbal' (1931)
- Sambucus nigra0.jpg
Black Elder (Sambucus nigra)
American Elder flowers
- Sambucus racemosa2.jpg
Red-berried Elder (Sambucus racemosa)
Ripe elderberries in August