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Sambucus nigra0.jpg
European black elder (Sambucus nigra)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Dipsacales
Family: Adoxaceae
Genus: Sambucus

See text

Sambucus berries

Sambucus is a genus of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae, its species commonly called elder or elderberry. It was formerly placed in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, but was reclassified due to genetic and morphological comparisons to Adoxa. In Sambucus, there are between 5 and 30 species of deciduous shrubs, small trees and herbaceous perennial plants.

The genus occurs in temperate to subtropical regions of the world. More widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, its Southern Hemisphere occurrence is restricted to parts of Australasia and South America. Many species are widely cultivated for their ornamental leaves, flowers and fruit.[2]

The leaves are pinnate with 5–9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11). Each leaf is 5–30 cm (2.0–11.8 in) long, and the leaflets have serrated margins. They bear large clusters of small white or cream-colored flowers in late spring; these are followed by clusters of small black, blue-black, or red berries (rarely yellow or white).

Species groups

Sambucus canadensis showing the complex branching of the inflorescence
Sambucus canadensis showing the inflorescence
Elderberry cultivation in Austria
  • The black-berried elder complex is variously treated as a single species Sambucus nigra found in the warmer parts of Europe and North America with several regional varieties or subspecies, or else as a group of several similar species. The flowers are in flat corymbs, and the berries are black to glaucous blue; they are larger shrubs, reaching 3–8 m (9.8–26.2 ft) tall, occasionally small trees up to 15 m (49 ft) tall and with a stem diameter of up to 30–60 cm (12–24 in).
  • The blackberry elder Sambucus melanocarpa of western North America is intermediate between the preceding and next groups. The flowers are in rounded panicles, but the berries are black; it is a small shrub, rarely exceeding 3–4 m (9.8–13.1 ft) tall. Some botanists include it in the red-berried elder group.
  • The red-berried elder complex is variously treated as a single species Sambucus racemosa found throughout the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere with several regional varieties or subspecies, or else as a group of several similar species. The flowers are in rounded panicles, and the berries are bright red; they are smaller shrubs, rarely exceeding 3–4 m (9.8–13.1 ft) tall.
  • The Australian elder group comprises two species from Australasia. The flowers are in rounded panicles, and the berries white or yellow; they are shrubs growing to 3 m (9.8 ft) high.
  • The dwarf elders are, by contrast to the other species, herbaceous plants, producing new stems each year from a perennial root system; they grow to 1.5–2 m (4.9–6.6 ft) tall, each stem terminating in a large flat umbel which matures into a dense cluster of glossy berries.
    • Sambucus adnata (Asian dwarf elder; Himalaya and eastern Asia; berries red)
    • Sambucus ebulus (European dwarf elder; central and southern Europe, northwest Africa and southwest Asia; berries black)

Other species:



Ripe elderberries

The flowers of Sambucus nigra are used to produce elderflower cordial. The French, Austrians and Central Europeans produce elderflower syrup, commonly made from an extract of elderflower blossoms, which is added to Palatschinken filling instead of blueberries. People throughout much of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe use a similar method to make a syrup which is diluted with water and used as a drink. In the United States, this French elderflower syrup is used to make elderflower marshmallows.[citation needed] St. Germain, a French liqueur, is made from elderflowers. Hallands Fläder, a Swedish akvavit, is flavoured with elderflowers.

Despite the similarity in name, the Italian liqueur sambuca is mostly made with star anise and fennel essential oils extracted by vapor distillation. It also contains elderflower extracts with which it is flavored to add a floral note, to smooth and round off the strong licorice flavor.

In Germany, yoghurt desserts are made with both the berries and the flowers.[5]

Wines, cordials and marmalade have been produced from the berries or flowers. Fruit pies and relishes are produced with berries. In Italy (especially in Piedmont), Germany and Austria, the umbels of the elderberry are batter coated, fried and then served as a dessert or a sweet lunch with a sugar and cinnamon topping, known as "Hollerküchel".[citation needed]

Hollowed elderberry twigs have traditionally been used as spiles to tap maple trees for syrup.[6]

As elder trees add to the beauty of Romania's landscapes, their white flowers help its rural economy grow when they are turned into cordials exported abroad, including Britain and Australia. Every year Romanians anxiously await the blossom season in May and June to pick the delicately scented flowers and concoct a traditional soft drink called "socata".[7] The refreshing beverage has also inspired US giant Coca-Cola to launch an elderflower-based drink, Fanta Shokata; "socată" or "suc de soc" is traditionally produced by letting the flowers macerate, with water, yeast and lemon for 2–3 days. The last stage of fermentation is allowed to proceed in a closed pressure proof bottle to give a fizzy drink.


Ornamental varieties of Sambucus are grown in gardens for their showy flowers, fruits and lacy foliage.

Native species of elderberry are often planted by people wishing to support native butterfly and bird species.

Elderberries, raw
Sambucus spp.
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 305 kJ (73 kcal)
18.4 g
Dietary fiber 7 g
0.5 g
0.66 g
Vitamin A equiv.
30 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.07 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.06 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.5 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.14 mg
Vitamin B6
0.23 mg
Folate (B9)
6 μg
Vitamin C
36 mg
38 mg
1.6 mg
5 mg
39 mg
280 mg
0.11 mg
Other constituents
Water 79.80 g

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Folk medicine

Black elderberry has been used medicinally for hundreds of years.[8][9] Some preliminary studies demonstrate that elderberry may have a measurable effect in treating the flu, alleviating allergies, and boosting overall respiratory health.[10][11]

Elder is used in traditional Chinese medicine, dissolved in wine, for rheumatism and traumatic injury.[12]


Branches from the elder are also used to make the fujara, koncovka and other uniquely Slovakian flutes. Similar musical instruments (furulya) are made of elderberry (fekete bodza, Sambucus nigra) in Hungary and other parts of Eastern Europe.[citation needed]


The ripe, cooked berries (pulp and skin) of most species of Sambucus are edible.[13][14] However, most uncooked berries and other parts of plants from this genus are poisonous. Sambucus nigra is the only variety considered to be non-toxic, but it is still recommended that its berries be cooked slightly for culinary purposes.[13] The leaves, twigs, branches, seeds, and roots of Sambucus plants can contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside (a glycoside which gives rise to cyanide as it is metabolised). Ingesting a sufficient quantity of cyanide-inducing glycosides can cause a toxic buildup of cyanide in the body.

In 1984, a group of twenty-five people were made sick, apparently by elderberry juice pressed from fresh, uncooked Sambucus mexicana berries, leaves, and stems. However, all twenty-five recovered quickly, including one individual who was hospitalized after drinking five glasses.[15]


The berries are a very valuable food resource for many birds. In Northern California elderberries are a favorite food for migrating band-tailed pigeons. Flocks can strip an entire bush in less than an hour. Elders are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including brown-tail, buff ermine, dot moth, emperor moth, engrailed moth, swallow-tailed moth and the V-pug. The crushed foliage and immature fruit have a strong fetid smell.

Valley elderberry longhorn beetles in California are very often found around red or blue elderberry bushes. Females lay their eggs on the bark. Larvae hatch and burrow into the stems.

Dead elder wood is the preferred habitat of the mushroom Auricularia auricula-judae, also known as "Jew's ear fungus".[16]

The pith of elder has been used by watchmakers for cleaning tools before intricate work.[17]


Elder commonly grows near farms and homesteads. It is a nitrogen loving plant and thus thrives near places of organic waste disposal. Elders are often grown as a hedgerow plant in Britain since they take very fast, can be bent into shape easily and grow quite profusely, thus having gained the reputation of being 'an instant hedge'. It is not fussy about soil type or pH level and will virtually grow anywhere where it gets enough light.[18]


Folklore is extensive and can be wildly conflicting depending on region.

  • In some areas, the "elder tree" was supposed to ward off evil influence and give protection from witches, while other beliefs say that witches often congregate under the plant, especially when it is full of fruit.
  • If an elder tree was cut down, a spirit known as the Elder Mother would be released and take her revenge. The tree could only safely be cut while chanting a rhyme to the Elder Mother.[19]


  1. "Sambucus L." Germplasm Resource Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2005-10-13. Retrieved 2009-07-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1-4053-3296-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Chestnut, Victor King (1902). Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office. p. 407. Retrieved 24 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Kearney, T.H. & R. H. Peebles. 1960. Arizona Flora. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.
  5. Mild elderberry Demeter yoghurt 3.7% 500g from Andechser Molkerei
  6. Medve, Richard J. et al. Edible Wild Plants of Pennsylvania and Neighboring States Penn State Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0-271-00690-1, p.161
  7. Harghitei, Perla. (2009-09-09) F"anta Shokata 1.5L Imported Europe". Retrieved April 16, 2013..
  8. Thole, Julie M.; Kraft, Tristan F. Burns; Sueiro, Lilly Ann; Kang, Young-Hwa; Gills, Joell J.; Cuendet, Muriel; Pezzuto, John M.; Seigler, David S.; Lila, Mary Ann (2006). "A Comparative Evaluation of the Anticancer Properties of European and American Elderberry Fruits". Journal of Medicinal Food. 9 (4): 498–504. doi:10.1089/jmf.2006.9.498. PMID 17201636.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. A Modern Herbal | Elder. (1923-01-06). Retrieved on 2011-03-06.
  10. Zakay-Rones, Z; Thom, E; Wollan, T; Wadstein, J (2004). "Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections" (PDF). The Journal of International Medical Research. 32 (2): 132–40. doi:10.1177/147323000403200205. PMID 15080016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Barak, V; Halperin, T; Kalickman, I (2001). "The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines". European cytokine network. 12 (2): 290–6. PMID 11399518.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Flaws, Bob (1994). Chinese Medicinal Wines and Elixirs. Blue Poppy. ISBN 0-936185-58-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 McVicar, Jekka (2007). "Jekka's Complete Herb Book" p. 214–215. Raincoast Books, Vancouver. ISBN 1-55192-882-5
  14. Nova Scotia Museum Website, Poison plant section, Nova Scotia Museum – Poisonous plants
  15. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (April 6, 1984). "Poisoning from Elderberry Juice—California". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 33 (13): 173–174. PMID 6422238. Retrieved December 15, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Roger's Mushrooms: A. auricula-judae
  17. Materials used in construction and repair of watches
  18. Sacred Earth - Elder in profile
  19. Howard, Michael. Traditional Folk Remedies (Century, 1987); pp. 134–5

Further reading

  • Vedel, H., & Lange, J. (1960). Trees and Bushes in Wood and Hedgerow. Methuen & Co Ltd.
  • Abe, Shin; Motai, Hideyo; Tanaka, Hiroshi; Shibata, Mitsue; Kominami, Yohsuke; Nakashizuka, Tohru (2008). "Population maintenance of the short-lived shrub Sambucus in a deciduous forest". Ecology. 89 (4): 1155–1167. doi:10.1890/06-2009.1. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links