Elder

©northeastwildlife,co,uk

Elder

Scientific name: Sambucus nigra
Elder is an opportunistic shrub of woods, hedges, scrub, waste and cultivated ground. Its flowers and berries are edible, but it's best to gather wild food with an expert - try it at a Wildlife Trust event.

Species information

Statistics

Height: up to 10m

Conservation status

Common.

When to see

January to December

About

Elder is a shrub of woodland edges, hedgerows and grassland scrub, but can also be found on waste ground, in cemeteries and even on rubbish tips. It prefers rich, fertilised soils, so is a common sight in urban areas and on cultivated ground. Despite its reputation as a bad-smelling, opportunistic 'weed', Elder is regularly used as food - the autumn berries and spring flowers can both be eaten (the latter sometimes battered and fried), and the blossom can be used to make the popular elderflower cordial.

How to identify

Elder has strong-smelling, compound leaves; each leaf is divided into five to seven leaflets. It displays white umbels (umbrella-like clusters) of flowers in summer, and glossy, black-purple berries in autumn.

Distribution

Widespread.

Did you know?

Elder was once renowned for its magical properties - if you burned it, it was thought that the Devil would appear, but if you kept it by the house, you could keep him at bay. It's also known as the 'Judas tree' because legend has it that the traitor Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an Elder bush.

How people can help

Gathering wild food can be a satisfying experience and provides a chance to learn about our native plants. However, if you do fancy giving it a go, remember that it is an offence to totally uproot a wild plant and please just take what you need, leaving some for the wild creatures, too. Don't eat anything you can't identify, either - it could make you very ill. To find out more about wild plants, both edible and not, why not come along to a Wildlife Trust event? From fungi forays to woodland walks, there's plenty of opportunities to learn more about your local patch.