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Elder Tree Facts

sambucus image by Vladislav Gajic from

The elder tree is known scientifically as Sambucus nigra. The tree is also known by the names black elder, boor tree, elderberry, ellhorn, elder bush, pipe tree and European elderberry. The plants are tiny trees or deciduous shrubs that are part of the Caprifoliaceae family. Elder trees exist all throughout North Africa, Asia and Europe. In the United States, the trees have been naturalized.


Elder trees have smooth, brown bark that becomes rough and furrowed with age. The trees produce monoecious flowers that are tiny and white and appear in thick clusters that are 8 inches in width. The trees have opposite, pinnate leaves that are between 6 and 11 inches in length. Elder trees bear tiny fruits that resemble berries. The fruit is a blackish-purple and can grow to be a maximum of 1/4 inch in diameter.


The elder tree thrives when it is cultivated under full sun. The flowers bloom towards the end of the spring or the beginning of the summer. The pH level of the soil in which the tree is grown must be neutral, moderately acidic or entirely acidic. Elder trees need to be watered regularly, with special care made not to over water them.


Elder trees generally appear in shady and moist areas. The trees also are often found amongst underbrush. Elder trees flourish in soils that are both fertile and disturbed. Other common habitats for the trees include grassland, woods, waste ground and alongside roads.

Medicinal Uses

Elder trees provide a variety of traditional medicinal uses. The leaves, bark, berries and flowers of the tree are all used for various medical conditions. The berries are used to treat neuralgia, nerve conditions, sciatica, lumbago, the flu, the common cold, obesity, sore throat, bronchitis, asthma and intestinal inflammation or irritation. The flowers can treat epilepsy and sinusitis and make the walls of damaged blood vessels stronger. The leaves are used for urinary and kidney problems and getting rid of the body's excess water. The leaves are also used as an antiseptic poultice for wounds.

Culinary Uses

Elder trees offer several different culinary purposes and uses. The dark berries, when ripe, can be safely eaten; the fruit is often used to make pies and jam. However, when they are unripe, they are slightly toxic and should be avoided. All of the plant's green components are poisonous, as they consist of cyanogenic glycosides. The flower heads of elder trees are frequently used to make infusions, which are particularly popular in northern Europe. Elder tree flowers can be used to make cordials and syrups. In European nations such as Germany, Norway and Scandinavian, the flowers are used to make soup. The berries and flowers of the tree can both be used to make elderberry wine.

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