Elderberry is a deciduous, hardy, perennial shrub or
multi-stemmed tree, with pinnate leaves, each divided into 5 ovate
toothed leaflets. Its spreading branches bear large, flat heads of
fragrant, small star-shaped, creamy-white flowers in late spring and
early summer – followed in autumn by drooping clusters of
purple-black berries. It prefers full-sun, will tolerate most soils
and needs to be cut back hard at the end of winter.
Elderberry is native to Europe, Asia and North-Africa where it grows
in woods, hedges and on waste ground. It is found in almost all
temperate regions. There is much folklore attached to Elderberry and
ancient legends link it with magic. People believed that it was good
to plant it outside their back door to protect them from evil and to
keep witches out of their houses. It was also believed that Christ's
cross was made from elder wood.
Harvest and parts used:
Elderberry leaves are picked in summer and used fresh. The bark is
stripped in late winter before new leaves appear, and dried for
decoctions. Fully open Elderberry flower heads are collected and
dried whole. The flowers are then stripped off for infusions,
extracts, ointments and tinctures. The fruits are harvested when
ripe, separated from the stalks and eaten fresh or for juice – or
dried to use in decoctions, syrups and tinctures.
Elderberry flower heads can be coated with a thin batter and deep
fried. The flowers are made into cordials and will give a muscatel
flavour to stewed fruit, jellies and gooseberry jam.
Elderberry fruit (berries) is rich in Vitamin C - add them to
sauces, jams, jellies, wines, chutney and ketchups – and to add
flavour and colour to stewed fruit and jellies. For centuries
Elderberry wine has been made from both the berries and the flowers.
Elderberry has innumerable uses and has for centuries been called
the “medicine chest of the country people” - providing remedies for
most common complaints. All parts of the Elderberry plant are used
An infusion of Elderberry flowers can be used to treat coughs, colds
and flu - it is relaxing and produces a mild perspiration that
reduces fever. If taken for some months before the hay fever season
begins, it can reduce the severity of hay fever attacks. It tones
the mucus linings of the nose and throat, increasing resistance
against infections and helps chronic congestion, allergies, ear
infections and candidiasis. Elderberry is also valuable for
arthritic conditions by promoting sweating and urine production that
aids the removal of waste products from the body and thus, the
joints. The flowers can also be made into an ointment to treat
bruises and sprains. An infusion of Elderberry leaves can be used as
a wash for minor burns, chillblains, inflamed skin and sore eyes –
and as a gargle for mouth ulcers, tonsillitis and sore throats.
Apply an infusion of Elderberry flowers to whiten and soften the
skin and to remove freckles.