Elderberries are dark purple fruits with a sweet-tart, fruity flavor. They make tasty, warming winter cordials, teas, syrups and wines. Elderberries contain bioflavonoids and vitamin C.
Sambucus nigra L.
Botanical Family: Caprrifoliaceae
Common name: European elder
Synonyms: black elder, common elder, fruto de sabuco (Spanish)
The Plant: Elder is a tall shrub, native throughout Europe, Asia and northern Africa. European elder is naturalized in North America and grows in moist, partly shady stream banks and at edges of woods. Other native species of elder -- western elder (S. caerulea) and North American sweet elder (S. Canadensis) -- are used as substitutes for European elder. Another North American native elder, a red-berried species called S. racemosa, is not used and should be avoided because of its toxicity.
The plant's small white flowers are arranged in flattened umbels, called a cyme. When ripe in the fall, the green fruits turn a deep purple-black. The berries are harvested in late summer and are best dried on the umbel, as removing the ripe berries before drying can damage them. Once dried, the berries are removed from the umbel.
Constituents of Note: Anthocyan glycosides (sambusin, sambucyanin, chrysanthemin) and flavonoid glycosides (rutin, isoquercetin, hyperioside). Also present are about 3% tannins, plant acids (malic, citric), vitamin C, sugars, and a very small amount of an essential oil (0.01%).
Quality: Dried elder berries have a fruity aroma and a sweet and sour, fruity flavor. The berries are dark purple and have a much-wrinkled appearance. Little or no stem should be present.
Regulatory Status: GRAS (Title 21 182.10 and 182.20) as a spice, natural flavoring, seasoning, and Dietary Supplement
Did you know? The elder is surrounded in European lore by a somewhat dark, magical, and very rich collection of stories and traditions. Elder is often associated with the underworld and is thought to be a doorway to that world. It is also associated with powerful underworld beings. This association was even incorporated into several of Hans Christian Anderson's tales.
Elder was also thought to be the special tree of the 'elder mother' who lived in its branches and exacted retribution on those who harvested elder without asking permission first.
When Christianity appeared in Europe, elder was thought to be the source of the wood for the cross or the tree on which Judas hung himself. Elder was also made into crosses for graves in England and affixed to doorways or made into charms to block spells and evil spirits.
Directions: To make a tea, cover one teaspoon of elder berries with one cup of water in a pan. Slowly bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
The berries are rather tasty and can be eaten as is or reconstituted and used in recipes.
Suggested Uses: Fresh elder berries are made into all types of foods, including jams and jellies, juices and wines.
The dried berries can be reconstituted and used for the same purposes. Elder berries are used in herbal syrups, tinctures and teas blends. Like elder flowers, the berries make a soothing, heat-clearing herbal tea. Elder berries are also often made into a cordial or a syrup.