Elder - Sambucus nigra

Botanical Name
Sambucus nigra (common to europe) or sambucus canadensis (common to america and more shrub like than tree)
Elder’s botanical name Sambucus is from the Greek musical instrument the sambuke, made from the hollow stems of elder wood.
Commonly known as moschatel family.
Common Name
Elder, black elder, blue elderberry, bore tree, bourtree, common elder, elderberry, elkhorn, sweet elder.
The name elder comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld, which means fire, as young elder branches were used to stoke fires by blowing through the hollow stems.
Parts Used

The flowers: dried for tea, extracted in tincture, made into wine, syrups, cordials, fritters, champagne and jelly.

The berries: dried for tea, extracted in tincture, made into syrups, wines, cordials, champagne and jelly. 

Note: the leaves, stems, bark and berries contain small amounts of cyanide. In order to use the berries they must be dried or cooked to negate this. Red elderberries should not be used as they contain higher amounts of cyanide. 


Native To
Europe, parts of Asia and part of Africa.
Botanical Description
Elder trees can grow between 10-30 feet tall. They have compound leaves comprised of 5-11 serrated oblong leaflets with an extra leaflet on top. The leaves grow opposite each other along the stem, which is hollow and has a pithy core.
The flowers are creamy white consisting of hundreds of tiny, fragrant, five-petaled flowers.
The fruit come in branching clusters of glossy dark purple or black berries.
There are two forms of elder, those with black berries and those with red berries (Sambucus racemosa); the red are smaller and more toxic, while the black berries are slightly larger and edible once cooked or dried.
Where She Grows
She particularly likes her roots in moist soil near a brook, river or wetlands, but can also grow in forest gaps, fields, roadsides, farmyards, and gardens. She was once planted at the edge of a garden to act as a protector to all other beings that resided there.

Season To Harvest

Flowers - Summer

Berries - Autumn (late August/September)


Harvesting Guidelines

Flowers: can be removed from the base of the flower cluster stalk. Only remove a few clusters from a tree, so that the flowers can turn into berries later in the year. Insects also use elder flowers for food. Only use the flowers, discard stems.

Berries: should be fully ripe before harvesting. Separate the berries from the stems before using. Dry or cook berries before consuming. Do not consume raw.



Energetically, elder is cool, pungent, slightly astringent and slightly sweet.


Elder is an immune tonic, immune stimulant, and an exceptional ally during colds, flu, and respiratory infections due to her diaphoretic, immune boosting and antiviral actions.

Elder is super high in vit C especially if harvested after the first frost and can be taken continuously all winter, or as an immune boost when illness strikes. 


The flowers are possibly best known for helping to break a fever. They do this by raising the body temperature quickly so that the body can fight the illness faster, thus breaking the fever faster. (The body can produce more pathogen fighting white blood cells when the temperature is raised.) This is known as a diaphoretic.

The flowers are also soothing to the nervous system, anti-inflammatory and help with ailments to do with congestion of the respiratory system. The flowers are both an anti-catarrhal (removes excess mucus from the lungs) and an expectorant (breaks up mucus in the lungs and helps expel it) making them a great ally against colds and flus. 

Due to the amount of pollen on the flowers and their decongesting effects, elderflowers are a great one to use to build up immunity against sinus allergies like hay fever. 



Fresh leaves can be used externally as a poultice or an oil infusion for bruises, sprains, and wounds as they are vulnerary (tissue healing) and astringent (toning).


Magic & Folklore

In British folklore it is believed that the 'elder mother' spirit or a spirit of a deceased witch lives inside and watches over the tree. For this reason it is wise to ask permission before taking any wood to avoid the wrath of an angered spirit, and it is deemed as disrespectful to burn elder wood for a fire. Elder is sometimes referred to as the 'witches tree' as some witches could turn into elder at will.

In Ireland, witches would use elder for their broomsticks, and wreaths of elder were worn at Samhain as it said to enhance your connection to the spirit world. 

Known throughout different cultures as a great protector, elder trees were often planted out the front of houses for protection or hung on doors to ward off evil. It is said you should leave a lucky self-sewn elder to grow as the spirit inside will protect your land and home. It may also bring prosperity. 

A popular myth in Denmark about the tree states that sitting under the tree at midsummer would enable you to see the fearies going to their midsummer feast. The danger here is that the scent of the flowers would put you to sleep and transport you into the feary realm without knowing how to return.



Love Em xx


Disclaimer - this is from my personal research. I cannot encourage the use of any medicinal plant without seeking medical advice first.