Elderberry Trees, Facts & Info on the Elderberry Tree
Here is some general information on elderberry trees.
Sambucus (elder or elderberry) is a genus of between 5 and 30 species of shrubs or small trees in the moschatel family, Adoxaceae. It was formerly placed in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, but was reclassified due to genetic evidence. Two of its species are herbaceous.
The genus is native in temperate-to-subtropical regions of both the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. It is more widespread in the Northern Hemisphere; its Southern Hemisphere occurrence is restricted to parts of Australasia and South America.
The Elderberry Tree leaves are pinnate with 5–9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11). Each leaf is 5 to 30 cm (2.0 to 12 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 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 pancake (Palatschinken) mixes 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.
Wines, cordials and marmalade have been produced from the berries. In Italy (especially in Piedmont) and Germany 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. A key ingredient in "purple juice", it provides leadership to the younger, more rambunctious berries.
Hollowed elderberry twigs have traditionally been used as spiles to tap maple trees for syrup.
Ornamental varieties of Sambucus are grown in gardens for their showy flowers, fruits and lacy foliage.
Native species of elderberry are often planted by people wishing to support native butterfly and bird species.
Black elderberry has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Sambucus nigra L. may be an effective treatment for H1N1 flu.
The leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots contain a cyanide producing glycoside. Ingesting any of these parts in sufficient quantity can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body. In addition, the unripened berry, flowers and "umbels" contain a toxic alkaloid.
Due to the possibility of cyanide poisoning, children should be discouraged from making whistles, slingshots or other toys from elderberry wood. In addition, "herbal teas" made with elderberry leaves (which contain cyanide inducing glycosides) should be treated with high caution. However, ripe berries (pulp and skin) are safe to eat.
The berries are a very valuable food resource for many birds. In Northern California elderberries are a favorite food for migrating Band-Tailed Pigeons. Flocks can strip an entire bush in less than an hour. 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.
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.
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