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Elder Tree

Edible Edible Autumn Autumn Spring Spring Summer Summer

A great foragers shrub that’s very common and has three edible crops.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Elder Tree
Scientific Name Sambucus nigra
Season Start May
Season End Oct
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.


Ovate, toothed leaves that look a little like Ground Elder leaves.


Large umbels of off white to cream, small flowers, looking almost ‘frothy’ from April to June.

Flower Buds

Hundreds of small, green, rugby ball shaped flower buds.


Large clusters of dark purple to black, juice laden berries.


The tree has a light coloured bark and the branches are quite brittle.


Hedgerows, woodland, gardens, in fact elders are not fussy and will grow almost anywhere given enough light.

Possible Confusion

It is quite difficult to confuse this tree with any other especially when in flower or fruiting or when the leaves are crushed and smelt.


The leaves have an unpleasant smell as can the flowers and when left in a bag for a short length of time smell very like cats urine.


The flowers have a sweetish taste, the berries should be cooked and are rather bland and best used with other fruit or used to make wine. I have found the odd elder with rather sweet berries but they are few and far between.


Very common.


Only the flowers(raw) and berries(cooked) are edible on this tree, and you shouldn’t consume too many of the berries raw, as the seeds contain cyanide inducing glycocides. The rest of the tree is poisonous and contains compounds that are metabolised into cyanide within the body.
Never try to climb an Elder tree, the branches are very brittle.

Medicinal Uses

It seems to be mostly good for respiratory problems, including bronchitis, coughs, congestion, sinus, flu and sore throats.

Other Facts

Elder flowers make a great cordial or for us, an even easier to make and better tasting champagne, see our Recipes page. The flowers can also be used to make a lovely syrup, or dipped in a light sweet batter and deep fried.

The berries are best used to make wine or mixed with other berries or used to make Pontiac sauce or a fruity balsamic vinegar – see Recipes.

There is another crop from the Elder and that is the Wood Ear, Auricularia auricula-judae – a mushroom that can be found at all times of year growing from dead limbs or stumps of Elder.

SeeĀ  www.wildfooduk.com/mushroom-guides/wood-ears-mushroom/

There are other species of Sambucus in the UK but most are ornamental and grown in peoples’ gardens; the berries of all must be cooked before consumption.

The Elder tree has a strong association with witches and folk medicine.



2 comments for Elder Tree

  1. Bill Ellis says:

    I have been told, but I have never seen an example that there is a white berry Elder.

  2. Barbara Wetton says:

    I regularly make elderberry and apple jelly. 1 lb berries and 5 lbs apples. It goes very well with roast meats and Brie as well as peanut butter. The berries make a lovely syrup with damsons and blackberries which is great hot with water when you have a cold

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