Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats Specimen Records:276 Specimens with Sequences:444 Specimens with Barcodes:293 Species:37 Species With Barcodes:36 Public Records:150 Public Species:30 Public BINs:0
The genus occurs in temperate to subtropical regions of the world. More widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, its Southern Hemisphere occurrence is restricted to parts of Australasia and South America. Many species are widely cultivated for their ornamental leaves, flowers and fruit.
The leaves are pinnate with 5–9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11). Each leaf is 5–30 cm (2.0–11.8 in) long, and the leaflets have serrated margins. They bear large clusters of small white or cream-colored flowers in late spring; these are followed by clusters of small black, blue-black, or red berries (rarely yellow or white).
The black-berried 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 3–8 m (9.8–26.2 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 canadensis (syn. S. nigra ssp canadensis; American elder; eastern North America; with blue-black berries)
Sambucus cerulea (syn. S. caerulea, S. coerula, S. glauca; blue elderberry, nō-kōm-hē-i'-nē, Konkow language); western North America; dark blue-black berries with glaucous bloom on surface, giving them a sky-blue appearance.
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 (9.8–13.1 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 (9.8–13.1 ft) tall.
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.
The flowers of Sambucus nigra are used to produce elderflower cordial. The French, Austrians and Central Europeans produce elderflower syrup, commonly made from an extract of elderflower blossoms, which is added to Palatschinken filling 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 markets a soft drink variety called "Shokata" which is sold in 15 countries worldwide. In the United States, this French elderflower syrup is used to make elderflower marshmallows.St. Germain, a French liqueur, is made from elderflowers. Hallands Fläder, a Swedish akvavit, is flavoured with elderflowers.
Despite the similarity in name, the Italian liqueur sambuca is mostly made with star anise and fennel essential oils extracted by vapor distillation. It also contains elderflower extracts with which it is flavored to add a floral note, to smooth and round off the strong licorice flavor.
In Germany, yoghurt desserts are made with both the berries and the flowers.
Wines, cordials and marmalade have been produced from the berries or flowers. Fruit pies and relishes are produced with berries. In Italy (especially in Piedmont), Germany and Austria, 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, known as "Hollerküchel".
Hollowed elderberry twigs have traditionally been used as spiles to tap maple trees for syrup.
Soft drink made from elderflower, Romania
In Romania, a slightly fermented soft beverage (called "socată" or "suc de soc") is traditionally produced by letting the flowers macerate, with water, yeast and lemon for 2–3 days. A similar drink is produced in the UK, but in this case the last stage of fermentation is allowed to proceed in a closed pressure proof bottle to give a fizzy drink called elderflower champagne.
Black elderberry has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Some preliminary studies demonstrate that elderberry may have a measurable effect in treating the flu, alleviating allergies, and boosting overall respiratory health.
Elder is used in traditional Chinese medicine, dissolved in wine, for rheumatism and traumatic injury.
Branches from the elder are also used to make the fujara, koncovka and other uniquely Slovakian flutes. Similar musical instruments (furulya) are made of elderberry (fekete bodza, Sambucus nigra) in Hungary and other parts of Eastern Europe.
The ripe, cooked berries (pulp and skin) of most species of Sambucus are edible. However, most uncooked berries and other parts of plants from this genus are poisonous. Sambucus nigra is the only variety considered to be non-toxic, but it is still recommended that its berries be cooked slightly for culinary purposes. The leaves, twigs, branches, seeds, and roots of Sambucus plants can contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside (a glycoside which gives rise to cyanide as the metabolism processes it). Ingesting a sufficient quantity of cyanide-inducing glycosides can cause a toxic buildup of cyanide in the body.
In 1984, a group of twenty-five people were made sick, apparently by elderberry juice pressed from fresh, uncooked Sambucus mexicana berries, leaves, and stems. However, all twenty-five recovered quickly, including one individual who was hospitalized after drinking five glasses. Such reported incidents are rare.
Elder commonly grows near farms and homesteads. It is a nitrogen loving plant and thus thrives near places of organic waste disposal. Elders are often grown as a hedgerow plant in Britain since they take very fast, can be bent into shape easily and grow quite profusely, thus having gained the reputation of being 'an instant hedge'. It is not fussy about soil type or pH level and will virtually grow anywhere where it gets enough light.
Folklore is extensive and can be wildly conflicting depending on region.
In some areas, the "elder tree" was supposed to ward off evil influence and give protection from witches, while other beliefs say that witches often congregate under the plant, especially when it is full of fruit.
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.
^Thole, Julie M.; Kraft, Tristan F. Burns; Sueiro, Lilly Ann; Kang, Young-Hwa; Gills, Joell J.; Cuendet, Muriel; Pezzuto, John M.; Seigler, David S.; Lila, Mary Ann (2006). "A Comparative Evaluation of the Anticancer Properties of European and American Elderberry Fruits". Journal of Medicinal Food 9 (4): 498–504. doi:10.1089/jmf.2006.9.498. PMID17201636.
^Barak, V; Halperin, T; Kalickman, I (2001). "The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines". European cytokine network 12 (2): 290–6. PMID11399518.