This small perennial tree, which is native to Europe, is instantly recognizable in early summer for its masses of pungent white flowers which later develop into small black berries. The elder tree is a shrub or small tree (up to 6 metres tall) with sparsely branched, pithy stems, compound leaves and small white elderflowers in flat-topped clusters. The elderberries are shiny, fleshy, black drupes, each with countable seeds.Â Â Â
Origin & History
The elderflowers and elderberries are vastly grown in plantations in Europe. Elderflowers are harvested and sieved to remove the stalks from the fused petals, which is the part mostly used. Elderberries are hand-picked when ripe.Â Â Â
Interestingly in European countries, branches of the elder are used to make magical wands for ritual. Scattering the leaves in the four winds is believed to bring protection. In addition, people usually grow elderflower near their homes believing it could offer protection from evil spirits.Â Â Â
Uses & Properties
The leaves, blossoms, root and berries of the elder have all had their uses in European folk medicine for centuries. Throughout history, a tea made of elderflowers has been used to alleviate lung infections, rheumatism, measles and scarlet fever and many herbalists still favour a strong elder blossom tea to treat colds, flu or fever, with added peppermint leaves and ginger root. Elder also encourages sweating, a boon in the treatment of colds, and soothes the respiratory system. Nowadays, elder is also popular as a blood purifier, in cleansing fasts for building immunity and in weight reduction regimes. Â Â
The aromatic elderflowers are used to flavour jams, vinegars and fermented drinks, and are even made into fritters (mixed with egg and flour) and fried.
- Dr Michael Sharon. Nutrients A-Z â€“ A User Guide to Foods, Herbs, Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements. Great Britain: Prion Books Ltd, 1998.
- Ben-Erik van Wyk. Food Plants of the World â€“ An Illustrated Guide. North America and the United Kingdom: Timber Press, Inc., 2005.
- The Herbal Encyclopedia <http://www.naturalark.com/herbence.html>