Respect Your Elders

by Seasonal Wisdom on June 30, 2009

It’s true that elder (Sambucus nigra; Sambucus canadensis) grows wild in moist places through much of the United States. But to call this plant “common” is just unfair. Few plants have generated as much respect as elder over the ages. In fact, once I learned about this plant, I was hooked and just had to have one in my garden.

Elder is Healthy: Hippocrates considered his elder tree a “medicine chest” in 400 B.C.E.  From cold remedies to stomach tonics, the white flowers and blue-black berries on this shrub and small tree have been used in everything from teas and syrups to skin creams.

America Botanical Council provides a summary of elder nutritional information and scientific studies. Note: Always cook berries before eating them. Never eat red berries from S. racemosa.

Water of elder flowers 
for a pure complexion and against insect biting. 
Take the flowers off the stalks 
and pack them down hard in your pan, 
and then pour on enough boiling water to cover them: 
cover your pan with a cloth and so let it stand a day and a night, 
and then strain it.”
Mrs. Harrington’s Book, 18th Century

 Elderberry Syrup
 Bring to boil 1/2 cup dried (or 1 cup fresh) berries 
with 3 cups water.
Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes covered.
Smash berries to release flavor and then strain.
Add 1 cup of honey and stir well.
Will keep for a couple months in refrigerator.
Take a tablespoon 3 times a day for colds and fevers.
Elder is Magical:  Throughout history, an elder tree was considered good luck. Leaves and flowers were gathered at Midsummer to decorate the home and keep away evil spirits. But it was bad luck to use elder woodfor any purpose. Children raised in elder wood cradles, for instance, were believed to grow sick and die. And, for goodness sake, never burn even the smallest amount of elder wood in your fire. That was a sure way to attract the devil or witches.  

Here’s a fairytale written by Hans Christian Anderson called “The Little Elder-Tree Mother.” (1845)Elder is Loved by Animals:  If that wasn’t enough, this member of the honeysuckle family attracts butterflies, bees and other pollinators. They simply love the sweet white flowers. You’ll find birds of all types like to eat the berries too.

Learn more about growing elders from the eXtension news.  Try Seasonal Wisdom’s Elderflower Fritters recipe. Learn about other wonderful edible flowers.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellie Mae's Cottage July 1, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Very interesting post! -Jackie

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Kim and Victoria July 1, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Nice post! Makes me even happier to have one.

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Seasonal Wisdom July 1, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Thanks, Jackie, for stopping by. Glad you liked the information.

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Seasonal Wisdom July 1, 2009 at 5:01 pm

You have an elder tree? Good for you! My seedling originated near Banks, Idaho, by the way. It was a local purchase… ;)

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P.Price/Red,White&Grew July 1, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Nice post. It was our Twitter chat that inspired you, wasn't it? =)

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P.Price/Red,White&Grew July 1, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Nice post. It was our Twitter chat that inspired you, wasn't it? =)

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Seasonal Wisdom July 1, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Thanks, Pamela. I must admit that our conversation with @RyansGarden did motivate me to write this post. I've been fascinated with this plant for a very long time. Best, Teresa

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Helen July 1, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Very interesting, Teresa. You are certainly an elder stateswoman.

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Seasonal Wisdom July 1, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Why, thank you, Helen. Once I learned about elder, I just had to have that plant in my garden. Best, Teresa

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Kim and Victoria July 7, 2009 at 3:51 pm

I see you got your blog back!

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Seasonal Wisdom July 7, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Yes, FINALLY, got the blog to work again on Mozilla. Still trying to figure out what went wrong with Explorer suddenly. Hang in there folks, I'm working on it…

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Judith July 9, 2009 at 10:01 pm

In my new garden I have plans for Elders..In Oregon where, I'm from, We would pick Elder Berries every year to make our "cold syrup"
always wanted to make wine though….. Nice post! Keep Food REAL

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Seasonal Wisdom July 9, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Judith, Good for you! I've heard that elderberries have been used for cold syrups for centuries. I'm looking forward to making the wine sometime soon too. Thanks for dropping by…

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