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Elderberry

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The Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a small tree growing to 6m (20 ft) high, bearing large bunches of edible flowers (raw/in drinks) and black fruits (raw or cooked).

This plant has a very long history of household use, both as food and as medicine.

Black Elder (Sambucus nigra) in the Burgwald Mountains near Wetter-Unterrosphe, Hesse, Germany. Photo: Willow

Black Elder (Sambucus nigra) in the Burgwald Mountains near Wetter-Unterrosphe, Hesse, Germany. Photo: Willow

Why We Like It

  • First off, this plant grows well on a wide variety of soils, ranging from light (sandy) to medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils.
  • It can also grow on soils with pH ranging from acid to neutral and basic (alkaline)
  • The flowerheads can be used in infusions and to make syrups, giving a very common refreshing drink in Northern Europe and the Balkans.
  • The berries are edible after cooking and can be used to make jam, jelly, and chutney.
  • Both flowers and berries can be made into elderberry wine
  • It attracts wildlife in the form of insects and small birds
  • This plant has been used traditionally as a medicinal plant for a long time, and has been called “the medicine chest of country people”. Stembark, leaves, flowers, fruits, and root extracts are used to treat bronchitis, cough, upper respiratory cold infections, fever, and more.
  • Elderberry has an extensive root system that is useful for stabilizing streambanks, lakeshores, and other moist, erosion-prone sites.

Word of caution: The leaves and stems are poisonous (containing cyanogenic glycosides). Also, the berries are mildly poisonous in their unripe state.

Where To Get It

United States

Sheffield’s (also see Sambucus canadensis)

Europe

Agroforestry Research Trust

Learn More

Plants for a Future


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