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International Herb Association's
Elder Berry- Sambucus Canadensis
(honeysuckle family-plants are perennial and mostly woody plants that include vines, ornamental shrubs and small trees.)

Elder grows worldwide throughout temperate climates.  Its common name is probably derived from the Anglo Saxon Ellaern or Aeld, which means fire or kindle because the hollow stems were once used for getting fires going.  We know it as American elder and sweet elder, those are common names for S. candaensis, which is often cultivated for it’s edible purple black berries.*  The generic name Sambucus, dates from ancient Greek time and may originally have referred to sambuke a kind of harp made of elderwood.  Pipes were made from its branches, too, possible the original Pan pipes/flute. 

FOLKLORE - People thought that if you put it on the fire you would see the devil.   They believed it unlucky to make cradle rockers out of it, that the spirit of the tree might harm the child.  Again, farmers were unwilling to use an elder switch to drive cattle and one folktale had it that elder would only grow where blood had been shed.  Planting outside the back door was a sure way of protecting against evil, black magic, and keeping witches out of the house, which would never be struck by lightning.  It was though that Christ’s cross was made of elderwood.

Flattened heads of fragrant flowers star shaped flowers, creamy-white from early to mid summer.  A shrub or small tree growing 5 to 12 feet in damp areas, elderberry can be spotted throughout the South in springtime with its dense white umbel-like flowers.  It grows in rich soil along streams, fencerows and low places in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, eastward to Florida and Georgia, and northward to Nova Scotia. Berries are dark purple leaves have long, sharply toothed and bright green leaflets.  Warning all parts of the flesh plant o f Sambuscus canadensis can poison.  Children have been poisoned by chewing or sucking the bark.  The berries are safe only after being cooked.  As are the seeds inside the berries always cook the berries first.

Dwarf Elder is the most poisonous. This grows in small clusters in Easter and Central states and in Europe. Nowadays dwarf elder is rarely used. The elder is also a pedigree medicinal plant, but caution must be exercised, as several varieties have poisonous properties.  Many cultivars have been developed, adding to the selection of flower colors and sizes as well as improving the fruit.

Elder tolerates most soils.  It prefers sun, but does well in light shade.  It grows rapidly and self sows freely.  Cut back in late autumn.

Elderflower water whitens and softens the skin, removes freckles.

The fruits make a lavender or violet dye when combined with alum, but the color fades quickly when exposed to light.

*WARNING: Before I write about the medicinal properties of Elder I want you to know that in researching this herb I found it can be deadly as you can see from the article above. It was mentioned many times in everything I read.  Be sure and heed the warnings. Elder can be dangerous if not handled properly. ALL PARTS OF THE PLANTS ARE SLIGHTLY POISONIOUS.  THE BERRIES ARE ENTICING TO CHILDREN.  CHILDREN SHOULD BE WARNED NOT TO EAT THEM.  DO NOT EAT ELDERBERRIES RAW, NOR IN FRESH JUICE.

oving on…Elder flowers reduce bronchial and upper respiratory catarrh (inflammation of the mucous membranes especially one chronically affecting the human nose and air passages).  They are also used in the treatment of hay fever.  Externally, a cold infusion of the flowers may be used as eyewash for conjunctivitis. A gargle made from elderflower infusion or elderflower vinegar alleviates tonsillitis and sore throats.  Elderflowers have a mild laxative action.  In Europe they have a reputation for treating rheumatism and gout.  “Elderberry Rob” is traditionally made by simmering the berries and thickening with sugar as a winter cordial for cough and colds.

Herbs for the Home Jekka McVicar

Southern Herb Growing – Madaline Hill and Gwen Barclay

Susan Belsinger

International Herb Association