Elderberry

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This page is about the plant. For other uses of the word Elder, see the disambiguation page Elder.
Elderberry or Elder
Black Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Black Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Dipsacales
Family: Adoxaceae
Genus: Sambucus
Species

See text

Elder or Elderberry (Sambucus) is a genus of between 5–30 species of shrubs or small trees (two species herbaceous), formerly treated in the honeysuckle family Caprifoliaceae, but now shown by genetic evidence to be correctly classified in the moschatel family Adoxaceae. The genus is native to temperate to subtropical regions of both the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere; the genus is more widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, with Southern Hemisphere occurrence restricted to parts of Australasia and South America.

The leaves are opposite, pinnate, with 5-9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11), each leaf 5-30 cm long, the leaflets with a serrated margin. They bear large clusters of small white or cream coloured flowers in the late spring, that are followed by clusters of small red, bluish or black (rarely yellow or white) berries. Species have lifespans between 80 and 100 years.

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. Dead elder wood is the preferred habitat of the mushroom Auricularia auricula-judae, also known as "Judas' ear fungus".

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.

Species groups

  • The common elder 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 5–8 m tall, occasionally small trees up to 15 m tall and with a stem diameter of up to 30–60 cm.
  • 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 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 tall.
  • 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 high.
  • 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 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)

Uses

Both flowers and berries can be made into elderberry wine, and in Hungary an elderberry brandy is produced (requiring 50 kg of fruit to produce 1 litre of brandy). The alcoholic drink sambuca is made by infusing elderberries[citation needed] and anise into alcohol. The berries are best not eaten raw as they are mildly poisonous, causing vomiting, particularly if eaten unripe. The mild cyanide toxicity is destroyed by cooking. The berries can also be made into jam, pies or Pontack sauce. All green parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides (Vedel & Lange 1960).

File:Holunderkultur.JPG
an elderberry-cultivation in Styria, Austria

The flowers may be used to make an herbal tea, which is believed as a remedy for colds and fever. In Europe, the flowers are made into a syrup or cordial (in Romanian: Socată), which is diluted with water before drinking. The popularity of this traditional drink has recently encouraged some commercial soft drink producers to introduce elderflower-flavoured drinks (Fanta Shokata). The flowers can also be used to make a mildly alcoholic, sparkling elderflower 'champagne'.

A few clinical studies have shown effectiveness of Sambucol, a formulation based on an extract of elderberry, in the treatment of both adults and children with either type A or B influenza. Sambucol reduced both the severity and duration of flu symptoms in otherwise healthy subjects, but should not be considered a substitute for influenza vaccination in high risk individuals [1]. An in vitro study of Sambucol showed possible effectivness against the H5N1 avian influenza virus [2].

Folklore

The elder was formerly held to be unlucky to have in the garden. If an elder tree was cut down, a spirit known as the Elder Mother would be released and take her revenge; shown in one way by a poem known as the Wiccan Rede where one line reads, "Elder be the Lady's tree, burn it not or cursed you'll be." This may derive from ancient Pagan beliefs, which held the elder sacred to the Moon Goddess. The tree could only safely be cut while chanting a rhyme to the Elder Mother.[1]

Trivia

References and external links

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  1. Howard, Michael. Traditional Folk Remedies (Century, 1987); pp. 134-5
bg:Бъз

da:Hyld de:Holundereo:Sambukohr:Bazga is:Yllir it:Sambucus ka:ანწლი lt:Šeivamedis hu:Bodza nl:Vlier (plant) nn:Hyllqu:Rayan sl:Bezeg


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