What is Black Elder?

Sara Schmidt

Also known as sambucus nigra, black elder is type of tree native to northwestern Africa, southwest Asia, and Europe. It is often used as a home remedy for various ailments. The elder flower and berries are also used in recipes for their nutritional value.

Black elder berries are often used to produce jams and jellies.
Black elder berries are often used to produce jams and jellies.

Black elder may also be referred to as elderberry or European elder. Though considered a poisonous weed to mammals due to the presence of glycoside sambunigrin, a cyanogenic compound, black elder is known for its many medicinal properties. Bronchitis, upper respiratory infections, cough, fever, the flu, and the common cold may all be treated with black elder.

Black elder can be used to treat bronchitis and cough.
Black elder can be used to treat bronchitis and cough.

To be used in treating congestion and other respiratory maladies, elderberry flowers may be cooked to create an herbal tea remedy. After simmering for 15 minutes, the dried flowers may be poured through a strainer or coffee filter. The resulting beverage, imbibed hot or cold, may help ease symptoms, though allergic reactions can occur.

The flowers and berries, the only parts of the plant that are safe for consumption, are very nutritious. The former contains folic acid, vitamins C and B1, fruit acids, and essential oils while the latter is a good source of flavonoids and calcium. For these reasons, they are often used to produce infusions, jams, jellies, and chutneys as well as wines, syrups, and cordials.

Soup made from the elderberry is a traditional meal in Germany. The flowers may also be used in cooking fritters by frying them in batter. Elderberry is frequently used in pies and other pastries with apples or blackberries. Some areas also produce elderflower-flavored soft drinks.

Some people use elderberry in their fasting or detoxification practices. Ingestion of elderberry can induce sweating in the body, a popular form of detoxification. For this purpose, the plant is usually used in a juice form.

The tree is also used for ornamental value. The sweet-smelling plant is a member of the honeysuckle family. To keep flies away during outings, horse riders have tied black elder foliage to their horses' manes.

Growing in both wet and dry conditions, elderberry thrives in direct sunlight. A small deciduous tree, it usually grows up to 13 to 20 feet (four to six meters) in height. Its leaves feature serrated margins that are arranged in opposite pairs, and it sports five-petaled white flowers. The fruit of the tree is a dark purple to black berry that is produced in clusters during the late autumn.

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