Plant of the Week ~ Sambucus nigra (Elder)

Botanical art of Sambucus nigra detailing the separate parts of the plant
Botanical art of Sambucus nigra detailing the separate parts of the plant

It’s time for another plant of the week and this time we are taking a look at the wonderful Sambucus nigra (Elder).  Growing to a maximum of 15 metres tall, elder grows as a small deciduous tree or shrub and is one of our delightful natives. With highly scented umbels of white flowers blooming in early summer with dark purple-black fruit ripening in late summer to early autumn, this plant is a great addition to the garden.

Cultivation & Care

If the scent of Sambucus nigra doesn't attract you, the pretty white flowers will
If the scent of Sambucus nigra doesn’t attract you, the pretty white flowers will

Tolerating most soil conditions, elder is a an easy to grow plant. It will grow well in chalk and heavy clay soils but is especially fond of loamy soil that retains moisture. It will grow in partial shade but fruits more prolifically in a sunny spot. It will handle coastal situations and even grow in areas with pollution, however there are mixed reports on it’s tolerance of severely smoky atmospheres.

Elder is very tolerant of pruning and can handle being pruned hard back to the base where it will regrow the following growing season.

Edible Uses

It's difficult to miss the fruits of Sambucus nigra with their dark purple berries on burgundy stalks
It’s difficult to miss the fruits of Sambucus nigra with their dark purple berries on burgundy stalks

Wildlife & Eco Gardens can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants.  Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally and when in doubt about eating a plant you have not eaten before.

  • Flowers ~ Used fresh or dried they can be used to make herbal teas, cordials, wines and even fritters.
  • Berries ~ Can be eaten raw, cooked or dried for later use. Most people do not find the raw flavour very desirable, so cooking the berries before use is most common. When cooked they are great used in jams, pies and preserves.

Other Uses

  • Windbreak ~ Great for providing shelter to other plants that are less tolerant of exposed conditions
  • Pioneer species ~ One of the first species to grow in cleared land. It provides shelter for longer lived species of tree while they grow
  • Insect repellent ~ The leaves can be rubbed on the skin, powdered and spread around plants or made into a spray
  • Dye ~ Different parts of the plant have ingredients which can be used in the production of dyes. Bark of old branches and roots: black, fruit: blue – purple, leaves: green
  • Litmus Test ~ The blue colouring from the berries can be used to test if a substance is acid or alkaline, turning green in alkaline solution and red in an acid solution.
  • Medicinal uses ~ Anti-inflammatory, aperient, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emollient, expectorant, galactogogue, haemostatic, laxative, ophthalmic, purgative, salve, stimulant

Wildlife Gardening

This Cedar Waxwing has certainly been enjoying the fruit Sambucus nigra provides
This Cedar Waxwing has certainly been enjoying the fruit Sambucus nigra provides. ~ Bill Marchel, Star Tribune
  • The flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects which serve as invaluable pollinators
  • The flowers and fruits are enjoyed by small mammals, particularly dormice and bank voles
  • The fruits are also a great source of food for birds and badgers will even enjoy any fruits that fall to the ground
  • Many small mammals and birds will use the plant as shelter
  • The leaves provide food for many species of moth caterpillar including the buff ermine and swallowtail

Now you know a little more about the lovely elder, why not consider growing one in your garden or green space?

Wildlife & Eco Gardens can help you create a vibrant wildlife garden for you and your family to enjoy all year round. Contact us for more information.

 

 

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