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Sambucus is a genus of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae. The various species are commonly called elder or elderberry. The genus was formerly placed in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, but was reclassified as Adoxaceae due to genetic and morphological comparisons to plants in the genus Adoxa.

Flowers of European black elder
Sambucus canadensis showing the inflorescence
Elderberry cultivation in Austria


The oppositely arranged leaves are pinnate with 5–9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11). Each leaf is Template:Convert 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).

Distribution and habitat

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.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>


Species recognized in this genus are:<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>
Sambucus canadensis showing the complex branching of the inflorescence

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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.



Dried elderberries ready for steeping
Structure of anthocyanins, the blue pigments in elderberries.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

Elderberry fruit or flowers are used as dietary supplements for minor diseases such as flu, colds, constipation, and other conditions, often served as a tea, extract, or in a capsule.<ref name="nih">Template:Cite web</ref> There is insufficient research to know its effectiveness for such uses, or its safety profile - however, no illnesses caused by elderflower have been reported.<ref name=nih/>


Raw elderberries are 80% water, 18% carbohydrates, and less than 1% each of protein and fat (table). In a 100 gram amount, elderberries supply 73 calories and are a rich source of vitamin C, providing 43% of the Daily Value (DV). Elderberries also have moderate contents of vitamin B6 (18% DV) and iron (12% DV), with no other nutrients in significant content (table).


The French, Austrians and Central Europeans produce elderflower syrup, commonly made from an extract of elderflower blossoms, which in central Europe 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 or as a flavoring in several food products. Fruit pies and relishes are produced with berries. Romanians produce a traditional soft drink in May and June called "socată" or "suc de soc". It is produced by letting the flowers macerate with water, yeast and lemon for 2–3 days. The last stage of fermentation is done in a closed pressure proof bottle to produce a fizzy drink. The beverage has also inspired Coca-Cola to launch an elderflower-based drink, Fanta Shokata.<ref>Template:Citation</ref>

The flowers of Sambucus nigra are used to produce elderflower cordial. 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.Template:Citation needed

Hollowed elderberry twigs have traditionally been used as spiles to tap maple trees for syrup.<ref>Medve, Richard J. et al. Edible Wild Plants of Pennsylvania and Neighboring States Penn State Press, 1990, Template:ISBN, p.161</ref>

Potential toxicity

Although the ripe, cooked berries (pulp and skin) of most species of Sambucus are edible,<ref name=nih/><ref name="jekka">McVicar, Jekka (2007). "Jekka's Complete Herb Book" p. 214–215. Raincoast Books, Vancouver. Template:ISBN</ref><ref name="nova">Template:Cite web</ref> uncooked berries and other parts of plants from this genus are poisonous.<ref name="senica">Template:Cite journal</ref> Leaves, twigs, branches, seeds, roots, flowers, and berries of Sambucus plants produce cyanidin glycosides and alkaloids, which have toxic properties.<ref name=nih/><ref name=nova/> Ingesting a sufficient quantity of cyanidin glycosides and alkaloids from berry juice, flower tea, or beverages made from fresh leaves, branches, and fruit has been shown to cause illness, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and weakness.<ref name=nih/><ref name=nova/><ref name=senica/><ref name=cdc/> In August 1983, a group of twenty-five people in Monterey County, California became suddenly ill by ingesting elderberry juice pressed from fresh, uncooked Sambucus mexicana berries, leaves, and stems.<ref name="cdc">Template:Cite journal</ref> The density of flavonoids (including cyanidin glycosides) is higher in tea made from flowers than it is in berries,<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> and overall density of cyanidin glycosides is lower in flowers and berries collected from low-altitude trees compared to those at higher elevations.<ref name=senica/>


Elderberries are rich in anthocyanidins<ref name=USDA6>Colors Derived from Agricultural Products, USDA</ref> that combine to give elderberry juice an intense blue-purple coloration that turns reddish on dilution with water.<ref name=register>National Organic Program (NOP)-Proposed Amendments to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (Processing)</ref> These pigments are used as colorants in various products,Template:R and "elderberry juice color" is listed by the USFDA as allowable in certified organic food products.Template:R In Japan, elderberry juice is listed as an approved "natural color additive" under the Food and Sanitation Law.<ref name="CRC">Template:Cite book</ref> Fibers can be dyed with elderberry juice (using alum as a mordant)<ref name="dye">Template:Cite book</ref> to give a light "elderberry" color.

Traditional medicine

Although practitioners of traditional medicine have used black elderberry for hundreds of years,<ref>A Modern Herbal | Elder. Botanical.com (1923-01-06). Retrieved on 2011-03-06.</ref> including as wine intended for treating rheumatism and pain from traumatic injury,<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>Template:Page needed there is no scientific evidence that such practices have any beneficial effect.<ref name=nih/> Additionally, black elderberry has been utilized as a treatment for flu symptoms.<ref name=nih/> While some preliminary research indicates that elderberry may relieve flu symptoms, the evidence is not strong enough to support its use for this purpose.<ref name=nih/>


In Northern California, elderberries are a food for migrating band-tailed pigeons. 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.Template:Citation needed The pith of elder has been used by watchmakers for cleaning tools before intricate work.<ref>Materials used in construction and repair of watches</ref>


Elder commonly grows near farms and homesteads. It is a nitrogen-dependent plant and thus is generally found 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 generally affected by soil type or pH level and will virtually grow anywhere sufficient sunlight is available.

Folklore and fiction

Folklore related to elder trees is extensive and can vary according to region.<ref>Template:Cite news</ref> In some myths, the elder tree is thought to ward off evil and give protection from witches, while other beliefs say that witches often congregate under the plant, especially when it is full of fruit.<ref>Template:Cite news</ref> 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.<ref>Howard, Michael. Traditional Folk Remedies (Century, 1987); pp. 134–5</ref>

Made from the branch of an elder tree, the Elder Wand plays a pivotal role in the final book of the Harry Potter series, which was nearly named Harry Potter and the Elder Wand before author J. K. Rowling decided on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref>



Further reading

  • Vedel, H., & Lange, J. (1960). Trees and Bushes in Wood and Hedgerow. Methuen & Co Ltd.
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External links

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