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Sambucus nigra is a species complex of elder native to most of Europe.[1]

It is most commonly called Elder, Elderberry, Black Elder, European Elder, European Elderberry, European Black Elderberry,[2][3] Common Elder, or Elder Bush when distinction from other species of Sambucus is needed. It grows in a variety of conditions including both wet and dry fertile soils, primarily in sunny locations.

Description

It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 4–6 m (rarely to 10 m) tall. The bark, light grey when young, changes to a coarse grey outer bark with lengthwise furrowing. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, 10–30 cm long, pinnate with five to seven (rarely nine) leaflets, the leaflets 5–12 cm long and 3–5 cm broad, with a serrated margin.

The hermaphrodite flowers are borne in large corymbs 10–25 cm diameter in mid summer, the individual flowers white, 5–6 mm diameter, with five petals; they are pollinated by flies.

The fruit is a dark purple to black berry 3–5 mm diameter, produced in drooping clusters in the late autumn; they are an important food for many fruit-eating birds, notably Blackcaps.

Subspecies

See also: Sambucus

There are several other closely related species, native to Asia and North America, which are similar, and sometimes treated as a subspecies of Sambucus nigra. The blue or Mexican elderberry, Sambucus mexicana, is now generally treated as one or two subspecies of S. nigra, ssp. canadensis[4] and ssp. caerulea.[5]

Uses

Culinary

The dark blue/purple berries can be eaten when fully ripe but are mildly poisonous in their unripe state.[6] All green parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides (Vedel & Lange 1960). The berries are edible after cooking and can be used to make jam, jelly, chutney and Pontack sauce.

The flowerheads are commonly used in infusions, giving a very common refreshing drink in Northern Europe and Balkans. Commercially these are sold as elderflower cordial, etc. In Europe, the flowers are made into a syrup or cordial (in Romanian: Socată, in Swedish: fläder(blom)saft), which is diluted with water before drinking. The popularity of this traditional drink has recently encouraged some commercial soft drink producers to introduce elderflower-flavoured drinks (Fanta Shokata, Freaky Fläder). The flowers can also be dipped into a light batter and then fried to make elderflower fritters. In Scandinavia and Germany, soup made from the elder berry (e.g. the German Fliederbeersuppe) is a traditional meal.

Both flowers and berries can be made into elderberry wine, and in Hungary an elderberry brandy is made that requires 50 kg of fruit to produce 1 litre of brandy. In south-western Sweden, it is traditional to make a snaps liqueur flavoured with elderflower. Elderflowers are also used in liqueurs such as St. Germain and a mildly alcoholic sparkling elderflower ‘champagne’.

In Beerse, Belgium, a variety of Jenever called Beers Vlierke is made from the berries.

Cultivation

Some selections and cultivars have variegated or coloured leaves and other distinctive qualities, and are grown as ornamental plants.

The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit:-

  • S. nigra ‘Aurea’ [7]
  • S. nigra ‘Laciniata’ [8]
  • S. nigra f. porphyrophylla ‘Gerda’ (syn. ‘Black beauty’)[9]

Medicinal

This plant is traditionally used as a medicinal plant by many native peoples and herbalists alike.[10][11] Stembark, leaves, flowers, fruits, and root extracts are used to treat bronchitis, cough, upper respiratory cold infections, fever.

In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) was shown to be effective for treating Influenza B.[12] People using the elderberry extract recovered much faster than those only on a placebo. The study was published in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine.

A small study published in 2004 showed that 93% of flu patients given extract were completely symptom-free within two days; those taking a placebo recovered in about six days. This current study shows that, indeed, it works for type A flu, reports lead researcher Erling Thom, with the University of Oslo in Norway.[13] However, the study that showed these results was sponsored by an Israeli company that produces various black elderberry extracts.

Elderberry flowers are sold in Ukrainian and Russian drugstores for relief of congestion, specifically as an expectorant to relieve dry cough and make it productive. The dried flowers are simmered for 15 minutes, the resulting flavorful and aromatic tea is poured through a coffee filter. Some individuals find it better hot, others cold, and some may experience an allergic reaction.

The flowers can be used to make an herbal tea as a remedy for inflammation caused by colds and fever.[14]

Diseases

Like other elderberries, Sambucus nigra is subject to Elder Whitewash fungus.

Wildlife value

Elder rates as fair to good forage for wild game such as mule deer, elk, sheep, and small non-game birds. It is classified as nesting habitat for many birds, including hummingbirds, warblers, and vireos. Elderberries are a favorite food for migrating Band-Tailed pigeons in Northern California, sometimes stripping an entire bush in short amount of time.

It is also good cover for large and small mammals alike.[15]

Elder is cited as a poisonous plant to mammals and as a weed in certain habitats.[16] All parts of the plant except for the flowers and ripe berries (but including the ripe seeds) are poisonous, containing the cyanogenic glycoside sambunigrin (C14H17NO6, CAS number 99-19-4).[17] The bark contains calcium oxalate crystals.

 

Other uses

The strong-smelling foliage was used in the past, tied to a horse’s mane, to keep flies away while riding. The stem can be used to make a whistle, after the pith has been removed.[18]

 

Written on August 28th, 2012 , Fruits Tags:

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