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Elder or Elderberry
European Black Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Dipsacales
Family: Adoxaceae
Genus: Sambucus

See text

Sambucus canadensis showing the complex branching of the inflorescence.
Sambucus canadensis showing the complex branching of the inflorescence.
Elderberry cultivation in Austria

Sambucus (elder or elderberry) is a genus of between 5 and 30 species of shrubs or small trees in the moschatel family, Adoxaceae. It was formerly placed in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, but was reclassified due to genetic evidence. Two of its species are herbaceous.

The genus is native in temperate-to-subtropical regions of both the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. It is more widespread in the Northern Hemisphere; its Southern Hemisphere occurrence is restricted to parts of Australasia and South America.

The leaves are pinnate with 5–9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11). Each leaf is 5–30 cm (2.0–12 in) long, and the leaflets have serrated margins. They bear large clusters of small white or cream-coloured flowers in late spring; these are followed by clusters of small black, blue-black, or red berries (rarely yellow or white).


Species groups

  • The 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 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).
    • Sambucus australis (Southern Elder; temperate eastern South America)
    • Sambucus canadensis (American Elder; eastern North America; with blue-black berries)
    • Sambucus cerulea (syn. S. caerulea, S. glauca; Blueberry Elder; western North America; dark blue-black berries with glaucous bloom on surface, giving them a sky-blue appearance)
    • Sambucus javanica (Chinese Elder; southeastern Asia)
    • Sambucus nigra (Elder or Black Elder; Europe and western Asia; with black berries) also known as Sambucus mexicana[2])
    • Sambucus lanceolata (Madeira Elder; Madeira Island; with black berries)
    • Sambucus palmensis (Canary Islands Elder; Canary Islands; with black berries)
    • Sambucus peruviana (Peruvian Elder; northwest South America; with black berries)
    • Sambucus simpsonii (Florida Elder; southeastern United States; with blue-black berries)
    • Sambucus velutina (Velvet Elder; southwestern North America; with blue-black berries)
  • 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 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 ft) tall.
    • Sambucus callicarpa (Pacific Coast Red Elder; west coast of North America)
    • Sambucus chinensis (Chinese Red Elder; eastern Asia, in mountains)
    • Sambucus latipinna (Korean Red Elder; Korea, southeast Siberia)
    • Sambucus microbotrys (Mountain Red Elder; southwest North America, in mountains)
    • Sambucus pubens (American Red Elder; northern North America)
    • Sambucus racemosa (European Red Elder or Red-berried Elder; northern Europe, northwest Asia)
    • Sambucus sieboldiana (Japanese Red Elder; Japan and Korea)
    • Sambucus tigranii (Caucasus Red Elder; southwest Asia, in mountains)
    • Sambucus williamsii (North China Red Elder; northeast Asia)
  • 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.
    • Sambucus australasica (Yellow Elder; New Guinea, eastern Australia)
    • Sambucus gaudichaudiana (Australian Elder or White Elder; shady areas of south eastern Australia)
  • 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)


Ripening elderberries.

The flowers of Sambucus nigra are used to produce elderflower cordial. The French and Central Europeans produce elderflower syrup, commonly made from an extract of elderflower blossoms, which is added to pancake (Palatschinken) mixes 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. Based on this syrup, Fanta marketed a soft drink variety called "Shokata" which was sold in 15 countries worldwide. In the United States, this French elderflower syrup is used to make elderflower marshmallows. Wines, cordials and marmalade have been produced from the berries. In Italy (especially in Piedmont) and Germany 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.

Hollowed elderberry twigs have traditionally been used as spiles to tap maple trees for syrup[3].

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


The leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots contain a cyanide producing glycoside. Ingesting any of these parts in sufficient quantity can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body. In addition, the unripened berry, flowers and "umbels" contain a toxic alkaloid.

Due to the possibility of cyanide poisoning, children should be discouraged from making whistles, slingshots or other toys from elderberry wood. In addition, "herbal teas" made with elderberry leaves (which contain cyanide inducing glycosides) should be treated with high caution. However, ripe berries (pulp and skin) are safe to eat.[4]


The berries are a very valuable food resource for many birds. Elders are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Brown-tail, Buff Ermine, Dot Moth, Emperor Moth, The Engrailed, Swallow-tailed Moth and The V-pug. The crushed foliage and immature fruit have a strong fetid smell.

Valley elderberry longhorn beetle 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 "Judas' ear fungus".

Pith wood is a term for heart wood of any type of tree. Pith from the Elder tree is used by watchmakers to clean tools prior to working on the fine parts of mechanical watches.

Medicinal use

In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, elderberry was shown to be effective for treating Influenza B.[5] People using the elderberry extract recovered much faster than those only on a placebo. The study was published in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine.

A small study published in 2004 showed that 93% of flu patients given extract were completely symptom-free within two days; those taking a placebo recovered in about six days. This current study shows that, indeed, it works for type A flu, reports lead researcher Erling Thom, with the University of Oslo in Norway.[6]

Thom's findings were presented at the 15th Annual Conference on Antiviral Research.

The study involved 60 patients who had been suffering with flu symptoms for 48 hours or less; 90% were infected with the A strain of the virus, 10% were infected with type B. Half the group took 15 milliliters of extract and the other group took a placebo four times a day for five days.

Patients in the extract group had "pronounced improvements" in flu symptoms after three days: nearly 90% of patients had complete cure within two to three days. Also, the extract group had no drowsiness, the downside of many flu treatments. The placebo group didn't recover until at least day six; they also took more painkillers and nasal sprays.

It's likely that antioxidants called flavonoids—which are contained in the extract—stimulate the immune system, writes Thom. Also, other compounds in elderberry, called anthocyanins, have an anti-inflammatory effect; this could explain the effect on aches, pains, and fever.

Elderberry extract could be an "efficient and safe treatment" for flu symptoms in otherwise healthy people and for those with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly, Thom adds.

Russell Greenfield, MD, a leading practitioner of integrative medicine and medical director of Carolinas Integrative Health, advocates treating flu with black elderberry, he says in a news release. "It can be given to children and adults, and with no known side effects or negative interactions," he says.

"But don't expect grandma's elderberry jam" to ease flu symptoms like body aches, cough, and fever, he warns. "Extract is the only black elderberry preparation shown effective in clinical studies."


The Elder Tree was supposed to ward off evil influence and give protection from witches, a popular belief held in some cultures. 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.[7]

The most powerful wand in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a wand made of sambucus known as the "Elder Wand".[8]


  1. ^ "Sambucus L.". Germplasm Resource Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2005-10-13. Retrieved 2009-07-23.  
  2. ^
  3. ^ Medve, Richard J. et al. Edible Wild Plants of Pennsylvania and Neighboring States Penn State Press, 1990, ISBN 9780271006901, p.161
  4. ^ Nova Scotia Museum Website, Poison plant section, Nova Scotia Museum - Poisonous plants
  5. ^ Zakay-Rones, Zichria; Noemi Varsano, Moshe Zlotnik, Orly Manor, Liora Regev, Miriam Schlesinger, Madeleine Mumcuoglu (1995). "Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virus in Vitro and Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama" (PDF). J Altern Complement Med 1 (4): 361-9. PMID 9395631. Retrieved September 8, 2009.  
  6. ^ Z Zakay-Rones, E Thom, T Wollan and J Wadstein. "Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections", Journal of International Medical Research (pdf)
  7. ^ Howard, Michael. Traditional Folk Remedies (Century, 1987); pp. 134-5
  8. ^ Interview with J.K. Rowling

External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also sambucus



Latin sambūcus (elder tree)

Proper noun


  1. (taxonomy) A taxonomic genus within the family Adoxaceae — the elderberry.


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies


Classification System: APG II (down to family level)

Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiospermae
Cladus: Eudicots
Cladus: core eudicots
Cladus: Asterids
Cladus: Euasterids II
Ordo: Dipsacales
Familia: Adoxaceae
Genus: Sambucus
Species: S. acuminata - S. adnata - S. alba - S. angustifolia - S. arborescens - S. argyi - S. arisanensis - S. aurea - S. australasica - S. australis - S. barbinervis - S. bipinnata - S. borealis - S. caerulea - S. californica - S. callicarpa - S. canadensis - S. chinensis - S. cochinchinensis - S. coerulea - S. columnaris - S. coriacea - S. decipiens - S. dimidiata - S. eberhardtii - S. ebuloides - S. ebulus - S. elegans - S. ferax - S. fimbriata - S. floribunda - S. florida - S. foetidissima - S. fontenayi - S. fontenaysii - S. formosana - S. gaudichaudiana - S. glabrescens - S. glauca - S. graveolens - S. henriana - S. hirta - S. hookeri - S. integerrima - S. intermedia - S. japonica - S. javanica - S. junnanica - S. kamtschatica - S. laciniata - S. lanceolata - S. latipinna - S. leiosperma - S. leucocarpa - S. linearis - S. longipes - S. loureiriana - S. lucida - S. manshurica - S. maritima - S. medullosa - S. melanocarpa - S. mexicana - S. microbotrys - S. microsperma - S. miquelii - S. monstrosa - S. neomexicana - S. nigra - S. orbiculata - S. oreopola - S. palmensis - S. pendula - S. peninsularis - S. pentagynia - S. peruviana - S. phyteumoides - S. planteriensis - S. plantierensis - S. plumosa - S. potaninii - S. pubescens - S. pulverulenta - S. pyramidata - S. racemosa - S. rehderiana - S. repens - S. rosiflora - S. rotundifolia - S. rubra - S. rupestris - S. sachalinensis - S. schweriniana - S. seminata - S. sibirica - S. sieboldiana - S. simpsonii - S. suaveolens - S. sylvestris - S. thunbergiana - S. thunbergii - S. tiliaefolia - S. trifida - S. velutina - S. verrucosa - S. vestita - S. virescens - S. virginica - S. vulgaris - S. wightiana - S. williamsii - S. xanthocarpa


Sambucus L., Sp. Pl. 269. 1 Mai 1753.

Type species
S. nigra L. (vide N. L. Britton et A. Brown, Ill. Fl. N.U.S. ed. 2. 3: 268. 7 Jun. 1913)


  • Ebulum Garcke, Fl. N. Mitt.-Deutschland, ed. 7 184. 1865.
  • Tripetelus Lindl., Three Expeditions into the interior of Eastern Australia 2: 14. 1838.


Vernacular names

Български: Бъз
Dansk: Hyld
Deutsch: Holunder
English: Elderberry
Español: Saúco
Français: Sureau
Italiano: Sambuco
Magyar: Bodza
Nederlands: Vlier
日本語: ニワトコ属
‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Hyll
‪Norsk (nynorsk)‬: Hyll
Polski: Bez
Русский: Бузина
Slovenščina: Bezeg
Svenska: Flädrar
Türkçe: Mürver
Vèneto: Sanbugaro
Wikimedia Commons For more multimedia, look at Sambucus on Wikimedia Commons.


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