Elder: Plant profile
Elder, Elder Tree, Black Elder, European Elder, Elderberry, Elderflower, Pipe Tree, Bore Tree, Bour Tree, Tron, Trom
Native to most of Europe and North America. Very common everywhere in the UK and Ireland.
Where to find Elder
Hedgerow, woodland, scrub and wasteland.
When to find Elder
Flowers early to mid-summer and berries early to mid-autumn.
How to identify Elderflower & Elderberry
Shrub or small tree with light coloured bark and brittle branches. Leaves are formed from two or three pairs of opposite leaflets and a terminal one. Elder is covered in creamy-white umbels of flowers that are highly aromatic. These umbels turn to clusters of small green berries, before ripening to a purplish-black.
Elderflower & Elderberry lookalikes
Elder could be confused with Ground Elder because the leaves are quite similar, however this is a low growing plant.
The flowers of the Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana) can look similar but smell unlike and the berries are a different colour. The flowers of the Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) vaguely resemble those of Elder.
All about Elder
The superstitions associated with elder have long played an important part in local history and folklore. People were afraid to cut down and burn its branches for fear of being cursed by the ‘Elder-mother’ who was believed to be the guardian living in the tree.
A deep respect for this tree made people value elder for its innumerable virtues, as it keeps giving so much by way of medicine, food and drink.
Elder produces the quintessential English summer fragrance: the heady scent of elderflower. The frothy, creamy white bloom is in fact composed of thousands of diminutive flowers that produce a unique aroma associated to refreshing floral cordials.
Medicinal properties of Elder
Elder has a long history of medicinal use and it’s still much used by herbalists.
Elderflower has a number of medicinal properties, such as expectorant, anticatarrhal, circulatory stimulant, antiviral and anti-inflammatory. Furthermore, an infusion of elderflowers an also be drunk to relieve hay fever or stress.
Elderberries have high vitamin C content and are quite effective for treating winter colds and flu.
Culinary uses and recipes with Elderflower & Elderberry
Both flowers and ripe berries are edible.
Elderflower is typically infused fresh for herbal tea, cordial and other drinks, such as flavoured liqueuers and sparkling wine or “elderflower champagne”.
Unripe berries are preserved in vinegar and used as “elderberry capers”.
Elderberries are cooked into jams, jellies and syrups, though they are also used to make country wine and vinegar.
Safe foraging of Elderflower & Elderberries
Leaves, bark and roots contain cyanogenic glycosides and should never be consumed.
Unripe or raw Elderberries may cause stomach upsets and must be cooked or processed through fermenting or pickling in order make them safe to consume.
Ecological importance of Elder
Elderflower provides a valuable nectar source for pollinating insects and Elderberries are much appreciated by small birds.