Elder Tree

(The medicine tree)

Common names: Elder, Black Elder, Common Elder 

Scientific name: Sambucus Nigra


The flowers have large umbels of small white flowers heads that have a distinctive smell that once smelt cannot be mistaken.  They appear in late spring, end of April/May.  The leaves are green, ovate and toothed with two to three pairs of leaflets and one terminal leaf. An abundance of dark purple/black small berries appear in late summer to early Autumn.  Branches and twigs are tremendously weak and usually grows from many branches. Birds love these trees as they provide a bountiful food source.


Elder trees are found in lots of places such as gardens, hedgerows, roadsides, woodlands and pretty much anywhere.


All parts of the Elder are poisonous. They contain cyanidin glycosides and alkaloids that have toxic properties.  Flowers and berries are edible when processed first, which makes them safe to consume.  This would be cooking and heating, pickling and fermenting. Adverse effects include nausea, illness, diarrhoea and physical weakness.

Flowers should be as fresh and dry, preferably collected them on a sunny day and left for about a half hour to let any insects escape.  Berries can be used green or when ripened and removed from stems easily with a fork.


Flowers– champagne, cordials, infusions, syrups, fritters, biscuits and cakes decoration.

Green berries– pickled capers

Ripened berries-syrup, cordials, wines, jam, vinegar, chutney, fruit leather, particularly goes well with Game.

Wooden Branches– best wood to use as a hand drill in fire starting.


High in antioxidants.  Elder has anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti- inflammatory properties.  Good for strengthening and boosting the immune system and has been said to be one of the best herbs to overcome and prevent a common cold and proven to fight the flu virus. It is rich in vitamin C, B6, iron and potassium.  It can lower blood pressure and could help with weight loss.  Therefore, I call it the medicine tree!

Used for treating: Viruses, colds, chilblains, bruises, sprains, diarrhoea, asthma and many more.

Other Facts and Folklore

The Elder tree is steeped in folklore.  One     is thought to ward off witches, however it is also said to have been a place where witches gathered to meet.   Another Folklore stated that permission from the Elder mother spirit was expected to allow for a safe cutting down, demolition of a tree, if permission was not initially gained, by chanting words to the Elder mother, then she would take her revenge.