Botanical descriptionThe fruit is about 8mm in diameter and is borne in large clusters.
The leaves and stems are poisonous. The fruit of many species (although no records have been seen for this species) has been known to cause stomach upsets to some people. Any toxin the fruit might contain is liable to be of very low toxicity and is destroyed when the fruit is cooked.
Fruit, Bark, Leaves
Powdered as an Insecticide
Elder has a very long history of household use as a medicinal herb and is also much used by herbalists. The plant has been called 'the medicine chest of country people'. The flowers are the main part used in modern herbalism, though all parts of the plant have been used at times. Stimulant. The inner bark is collected from young trees in the autumn and is best sun-dried. It is diuretic, a strong purgative and in large doses emetic. It is used in the treatment of constipation and arthritic conditions. An emollient ointment is made from the green inner bark. The leaves can be used both fresh or dry. For drying, they are harvested in periods of fine weather during June and July. The leaves are purgative, but are more nauseous than the bark. They are also diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant and haemostatic. The juice is said to be a good treatment for inflamed eyes. An ointment made from the leaves is emollient and is used in the treatment of bruises, sprains, chilblains, wounds etc. The fresh flowers are used in the distillation of 'Elder Flower Water'. The flowers can be preserved with salt to make them available for distillation later in the season. The water is mildly astringent and a gentle stimulant. It is mainly used as a vehicle for eye and skin lotions. The dried flowers are diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, galactogogue and pectoral. An infusion is very effective in the treatment of chest complaints and is also used to bathe inflamed eyes. The infusion is also a very good spring tonic and blood cleanser. Externally, the flowers are used in poultices to ease pain and abate inflammation. Used as an ointment, it treats chilblains, burns, wounds, scalds etc. The fruit is depurative, weakly diaphoretic and gently laxative. A tea made from the dried berries is said to be a good remedy for colic and diarrhoea. The fruit is widely used for making wines, preserves etc., and these are said to retain the medicinal properties of the fruit. The pith of young stems is used in treating burns and scalds. The root is no longer used in herbal medicine but it formerly had a high reputation as an emetic and purgative that was very effective against dropsy. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh inner bark of young branches. It relieves asthmatic symptoms and spurious croup in children.
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame, when it should germinate in early spring. Stored seed can be sown in the spring in a cold frame but will probably germinate better if it is given 2 months warm followed by 2 months cold stratification first. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. If good growth is made, the young plants can be placed in their permanent positions during the early summer. Otherwise, either put them in a sheltered nursery bed, or keep them in their pots in a sheltered position and plant them out in spring of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 7 - 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, 15 - 20cm with a heel, late autumn in a frame or a sheltered outdoor bed. Division of suckers in the dormant season.
Practical Plants is currently lacking information on propagation instructions of Sambucus nigra. Help us fill in the blanks! Edit this page to add your knowledge.
A very easily grown plant, it tolerates most soils and situations, growing well on chalk, but prefers a moist loamy soil. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Tolerates some shade but fruits better in a sunny position. Tolerates atmospheric pollution and coastal situations. Another report says that it is intolerant of very smoky atmospheres. The elder is very occasionally cultivated for its edible fruit, there are some named varieties though most of these have been developed for their ornamental value. The sub-species S. nigra alba has white/green fruits that are nicer than the type species and are quite nice raw[K]. The elder also has a very long history of folk use, both medicinally and for a wide range of other uses. All in all it is a very valuable plant to have in the garden. The leaves often begin to open as early as January and are fully open in April. The leaves fall in October/November in exposed sites, later in sheltered positions. Young stems can be killed by late frosts but they are soon replaced from the ground level. Very tolerant of pruning, plants can be cut back to ground level and will regrow from the base. The flowers have a sweet, almost overpowering smell, not exactly pleasant when inhaled near to for it has fishy undertones, but from a distance its musky scent is appealing. Very resistant to the predations of rabbits. The flowers are very attractive to insects. The fruit is very attractive to birds and this can draw them away from other cultivated fruits. The elder is an early colonizer of derelict land, the seed arriving in the defecations of birds and mammals. It is a very good pioneer species for re-establishing woodlands. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus.
Problems, pests & diseases
Associations & Interactions
There are no interactions listed for Sambucus nigra. Do you know of an interaction that should be listed here? to add it.
Polycultures & Guilds
There are no polycultures listed which include Sambucus nigra.
This table shows all the data stored for this plant.
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