Common name: Elder

Scientific name: Sambucus nigra

Family: Caprifoliaceae

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Elder is a generous shrub, providing both flowers and berries for our enjoyment and health.


This small tree has greyish-brown corky bark and leaves split into 5-7 leaflets similar to ash. The leaves have a distinctive tomato-plant-like smell, particularly when rubbed. The tiny creamy-white scented flowers are held in umbels (like umbrellas) in May-July. By September they have become clusters of deep purple shiny berries on pink/red stalks.


Both the elder flowers and elderberries are edible and tasty. The flowers can be made into elderflower cordial, whole heads can be dipped into batter and fried as fritters or you can combine them with gooseberries (which handily ripen around the same time) to make tasty desserts, jams and sorbets. They can also be used to flavour cream or set custard. The dried flowers can be used as a rub or in marinades to flavour pork and other white meats.

The berries are rich in anti-oxidants including flavonoids and anthocyanins, as well as vitamins A and C. These can be squeezed for their tart juice, made into a syrup (drizzle over pancakes or ice cream)

Medicinal use:

Elderflowers help reduce inflammation in the nose and sinuses, reducing the symptoms of hayfever. It can be taken as a tea for this – elderflower cordial is much less concentrated. It works really well combined with nettle.

Elderberries are anti-viral, specifically for the cold virus, influenza and related viruses. They share the constituent anti-hyaluronidase with Echinacea – this prevents viruses infecting cells. Elderberry also improves your immune response and its anti-oxidants help to strengthen blood vessel walls, useful for those who get nosebleeds or bruise easily.


Elderflower fizz (fermented so may contain a small amount of alcohol)

2 heads fresh elderflowers, zest and juice of 1 lemon, 600g sugar, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Put the elderflower heads, lemon zest and juice, sugar, vinegar and 4.6litres of cold water into a bowl. Leave for 24 hours and then strain into strong screw-top bottles. As the mixture ferments it will produce gas so weak bottles or poorly attached stoppers will “pop”. Lay the bottles on their side in a cool place for 2 weeks, then enjoy chilled!

(Part of Douglas Tidy Town’s Foraging Trail)