Elderberry, Sambucus nigra


Elderberries are the fruits of the Black Elder Tree, a deciduous shrub or small tree growing up to 6 meters tall and wide. Elder trees are unfussy and grow in a variety of conditions as long as there is enough sun for them to thrive. They flower between late May and mid-June. The plant is a very common feature of hedgerows and scrubland in Britain and northern Europe, but also is widely grown as an ornamental shrub or small tree. The elder tree has many associations in folklore, including the Anglo-Saxons, who believed if you fell asleep under a tree in full bloom, you would be invited into the world of the fairies and be protected from evil spirits. Anglo-Saxons also believed that if an elder was removed it would be replaced by a witch. Elderberries have a long tradition of culinary use, and are generally used for making cordial, wine, gin, jams, preserves and sauces.

Elderberry Checklist


🌳 Deciduous Woodland.
🐑 Grassland, including paddocks, fields and meadows.
🚜 Hedgerows, including field edges.
🏡 Urban Green Spaces, including scrubland, parks and gardens.
🏢 Urban Environments, wasteland, Streets and pavements.
🌊 Waterways, including rivers, lakes and streams.


🍂 Sep - Oct


☘️ Green, Ovate and toothed.


🌷 Large umbels of frothy white / cream flowers. The flowers themsleves are very small, with five petals and golden yellow stamens.


🪓 The tree has a light greeny-brown bark and the branches are quite brittle.


🍓 After flowering small umbels of black berries form on the stems which resemble hanging blackcurrants.

Edible Parts

🌷 Flowers
🍓 Berries

Aroma / Taste

👃 The leaves of the Black Elder smell a little unpleasant, reminiscent of cat urine. The flowers smell lemony and sweet, with an undertone of the leave's aroma. Don't let that put you off though!
👅 Raw Elderberries tastes fruity, but on the whole are a little bland. They are best used in cooking or to make sauces, jams and other condiments.

ID Notes

🟩 ID Difficulty - Beginner
👀 Black Elder is relatively easy to identify, especially when in flower, or in fruit. The frothy white flowers and hanging umbels of black berries are the key identifiers.
👃 The unpleasant cat urine smell of the leaves, particularly when crushed, is a key identifier.

⛔️ With the exception of the flowers, all parts of the Elder Tree are mildly toxic, and shouldn't be eaten. The berries are edible, but should be cooked first, as the seeds contain glycocides that turn into cyanide in the body. The flowers can be eaten raw.

⛔️ The branches of the Elder Tree are renowed for being brittle and weak, so climbing them either for fun, or to reach the flowers whilst picking should be avoided.


☕️ Beverage - Berries can used to make drinks, particularly cordial and wine. Must be cooked.
🧉 Condiment - Berries can be used to make sauces. Must be cooked.
🍨 Sweet - Berries can be used to make desserts, puddings and syrups.
💊 Herbal Remedy - Is often used medicinally.