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Sambucus nigra (elder)

The elder, although a much-appreciated source of food and medicine, was once reviled as the tree from which Judas Iscariot supposedly hanged himself. However, since elder is not native to the Palestine region, this story is probably untrue.
Elder fruits

Fruits of Sambucus nigra (Photo: Wolfgang Stuppy)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Sambucus nigra L.

Common name: 

elder, Judas tree, pipe tree, bourtree, black elder

Conservation status: 

Elder is not threatened.


Woodlands and hedgerows.

Key Uses: 

Food and drink, medicinal, insect repellent.

Known hazards: 

See below.


Genus: Sambucus

About this species

Elder is a short-lived, sometimes scruffy-looking shrub which can be found growing in woodlands, hedgerows and scrub, on waste ground and railway embankments, and in graveyards. It has been revered for centuries for a wide range of medicinal and perceived magical properties. It has a wide range of culinary uses, and the flat-topped heads of white flowers have a delicate beauty when adorning countryside hedgerows.

Medicinal Uses

Elderflowers and elderberries are widely used in herbal medicine. An infusion or tea made with the flowers is taken to soothe, reduce inflammation or as a diuretic. Preparations containing elderflower are effective in treating sinusitis, and standardised preparations containing extracts or juice of elderberries have been shown to reduce the duration of flu symptoms. The flowers and berries are taken for various other ailments including coughs, colds and constipation. Elderberry is used as an immune booster, perhaps supported by the presence of anthocyanidins in the berries (chemical compounds that are known to have immunostimulant effects). Elderflower is also used against diabetes: research has shown that extracts of elderflower stimulate glucose metabolism and the secretion of insulin, lowering blood sugar levels.


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