Elderberry, black

Sambucus melanocarpa – Elderberry, black

Elderberry, BlackSambucus melanocarpa

Sambucus = sam-bew-kus, from its Latin name which in turn comes from Greek sanbuke (an instrument) referring to its use as a flute or from Gr. name for the elder tree;

melanocarpa = L. “black-fruited”;

Identification: This shrub grows 1 – 3 m high and often forms large clumps. The white flowers are small and numerous in large terminal compound cymes. The leaves are pinnate, usually with 5 – 7 leaflets which are serrated. The fruits are black.

Distribution & Habitat: Black elderberry forms clumps in moist thickets from the foothills into the low alpine regions.

Preparation & Uses: The fruit is sweet and juicy when mature and makes excellent pies, jellies and very good wine. Some people experience a little nausea if they eat too many berries raw, but cooking renders them safe for all.

Most parts of this plant are emetic, hydragogue and cathartic. The flowers are diaphoretic, diuretic, alterative, emollient, antiseptic and gently stimulant. An infusion of the plant is good for a headache due to a cold and is also helpful in jaundice and kidney complaints.

The inner bark of elderberry is said to be successful in treating epilepsy. This inner bark is taken from 1 or 2 year old branches. Steep 2 oz. of the bark in 5 oz. of boiling water for 48 hours. Keep the water quantity the same. Strain and give a wine glassful every 15 minutes when a fit is threatening. The patient should fast every seventh day. I have not employed this program and therefore cannot vouche for it personally.

A tea made from the flowers of elderberry is said to be quieting to twitching and good for inflammation of the eyes if taken internally. The berries are high in iron which makes them good for anemic conditions. The inner green bark is cathartic as an infusion in wine or expressed juice. It should be taken in doses from ½ fluid oz. to 1 fluid oz. It is a moderate purge, while large doses will produce vomiting. It is cleansing in small doses. It is used in dropsy to expel water. In children s diseases, it is quite good for liver derangement.

For tumors, swelling joints and similar problems, simmer any or all parts of elder and apply it as a poultice on broken skin. For burns and scalds it can be mixed with coconut oil to make a nice salve. Leaves can be made into a poultice and applied to bruises and on cuts to stop bleeding.

Many cosmetic uses have been claimed for elderberry. Every part of elderberry bush can aid in beauty complexion. It is claimed to remove spots, soothe irritation, remove freckles and preserve and soften skin if applied faithfully both internally and externally. As a wash it can be used for eczema, old ulcers and skin eruptions. An eyewash made from the flowers is very soothing.

Indians made flutes out of the branches, cutting them in the spring and letting them dry. They then bore holes in them with a hot poker or stick. Make sure that red elderberry is not used in this way as it is poisonous. The crushed leaves are also known as a fairly effective insect repellent.

I found this nice tale about how elderbrry got its name. This is taken from Hutchens, who in turn found it in a 17th century Russian Botanic book:

“There once was a king who was traveling in a hunting party. When it was getting late he realized that he was lost in thick woods. After a while he came upon a lonely farmhouse and found an elderly gentleman crying on the porch. When the King asked why he was crying the man explained that he had slipped and fallen while carrying his grandfather from one room to another. His father was angry with him and had beaten him. This aroused the King s curiosity and he entered the house. To his surprise, he observed elders of advanced generations peacefully talking and going about their daily routine. After talking with them and observing them he asked how they kept in such good health to advancing years. They explained that as long as they could remember, their family had eaten only simple foods, salt, home-prepared bread, milk, cheese – with emphasis on elderberries.”

Caution: Sambucus pubens (red elderberry) is said to be poisonous. Kingsbury says that the berries cause little more than nausea in humans, (especially if cooked with the seeds removed) but the root and stem can be dangerous. Children should be discouraged from using the stems to make blow-guns and flutes. The plant is distinguished by its red or yellowish berries.