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ELDER or ELDERFLOWER : Sambucus nigra

This is a stocky tree with few branches with a trunk that is greyish brown and furrowed. Its pinnate leaves form 5 to 7 leaflets with serrated edges. 

Not to be confused with the wayfarer 

In winter its twigs can smell somewhat unpleasant with a white pith (spongy tissue) inside. 

It is in summer that it comes into its own. Its small creamy highly scented flowers have five petals, but it is their natural clusters that transform this tree into something very attractive. The flowers are borne on large flat umbels 10 to 30cm across. 

Once pollinated by insects, each flower develops into a small, purple-black, sour berry, which ripens from late-summer to autumn. Elders are hermaphrodite, meaning both the male and female reproductive parts are contained within the same flower.

Although the flowers and cooked berries (pulp and skin) are edible, the uncooked berries and other parts of plants from the genus Sambucus are poisonous. Once cooked they become safe for consumption. The flowers are often used to make wine, cordial or tea, or fried to make fritters. The vitamin C-rich berries are often used to make preserves and wine, and can be baked in a pie with blackberries.

Elder is also a great source for a variety of coloured dyes and historically it was used to make lushly patterned Harris Tweed. Blue and purple dye was obtained from the berries, yellow and green from the leaves, and grey and black dye was made from the bark.

The Woodland Trust tells us that it was thought that if you burned elder wood you would see the Devil, but if you planted elder by your house it would keep the Devil away. It is also known as the ‘Judas tree’ as Judas Iscariot is said to have hanged himself from an elder tree.

An elder flower - Lomond Shores.

Also see FORAGING : index.asp?pageid=731714

THE WILD PIONEERS : https://www.thewildpioneers.com/blog/summer-foraging-in-scotland-elderflower-recipes#:~:text=The%20pale%20cream%20flowers%20are%20delicate%2C%20dainty%20and,Elder%2C%20Sambucus%20nigra%2C%20is%20ubiquitous%20here%20in%20Scotland.

WOODLAND TRUST : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/elder/

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