Common name: Elder, black elder, European elder, bour tree
Botanical name: Sambucus nigra
Worldwide distribution: Native to most of Europe and North America.
Local distribution: Very common everywhere in the UK and Ireland.
Habitat: Hedgerow, woodland, scrub and wasteland.
Foraging season: 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.
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.
Elderberries have high vitamin C content and are quite effective for treating winter colds and flu.
Leaves, bark and roots are all poisonous and green berries can make you feel unwell.