Elder or Elderberry is a very familiar shrub or small tree commonly found in gardens and native hedgerows.
There are up to 30 species of deciduous shrubs, small trees and smaller herbaceous perennial plants in the Elder or Sambucus group that are usually found in the northern hemisphere but a few in Australasia and South America, all grown for their flowers and fruit and some for their ornamental leaves.
The large flat clusters of white flowers on Sambucus nigra appear in summer, often picked to use as an infusion to go with gooseberry dishes or to make wine, cordial or tea and sometimes used for medicinal purposes although effectiveness is not proven. The glossy black berries which replace the flowers and look so attractive en masse are similarly used for culinary purposes and in pies, flavouring yoghurts and making relishes. Traditionally the hollowed-out twigs of Elder have been used as an outlet to tap Maple trees for syrup. It is always recommended that the berries are cooked and not eaten raw. Birds and some moth larvae favour the Elder both feeding voraciously on the plant, a flock of birds has been known to strip the berries of a bush in no time.
A fast-growing plant, Sambucus nigra is more often found near farms as it prefers a nitrogen rich soil and so tends to grow near sites of organic waste as well as chalky soils and coastal sites. Growing at a rate of up to 60cm per year it will provide a dense hedge very quickly up to about 5 metres high. We would recommend 2-3 plants per metre and trimming as necessary.
Elder is supplied in bare root form and is available during the season when they are dormant from November until March. This is a very economical way to buy plants if you are working to a budget, however they will ideally need to be planted within a few days of delivery so it is a good idea to get the ground preparation done in advance.