Table of Contents

Elder: Plant profile

Common names

Elder, black elder, European elder, bour tree

Botanical name

Sambucus nigra

Plant family


Geographical distribution

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.



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.

Culinary uses and recipes with Elder

Both flowers and ripe berries are edible.  Blooms are typically used fresh as flavouring for tea, cordial and other drinks. Berries are cooked into jams, jellies and syrups, though they are also used to make country wine and vinegar.

Medicinal properties of Elder

Elderberries have high vitamin C content and are quite effective for treating winter colds and flu.


Safe foraging

Leaves, bark and roots are all poisonous and green berries can make you feel unwell.

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Alvaro Docio

Alvaro Docio

I am the person behind British Local Food. I want to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties.

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6 thoughts on “Elder”

  1. Hi there I’ve just made elderflower wine . its dead easy . you have to wait a while though before its ready to drink . but its worth it you can use it in gin mixers etc or on its own very distinctive flavour . there’s a few flowers left so I will try the tea as put the comments board thank you Joe .PS the elderberry s also make good wine. I sometimes mix them with either apples or blackberry’s during the fermenting process.

  2. Do you wash it, no matter where I pick it from it’s absolutely riddled with tiny black clies, greenflies etc, can’t imagine using it unwashed at all?! but it’s v delicate too, what’s best option?

    • I get what you mean, they usually attract many little creatures.
      However wash it and you’ll get rid of the pollen, where all the flavour is coming from.
      I think the best way to proceed is to infuse the flowers as you pick them and sieve the bugs using a fine mesh.
      That’s what definitely works for me!

  3. I harvested Elder flowers and dehydrated them for tea. My friends who have tried it have been so surprised at how nice it is. I’m planning on going out collecting berries this week.


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