Elder is a deciduous shrub that grows very quickly. Leaves are present from March through to November and it is in flower from June to July, the berries ripening from August to September (7). The aromatic flowers are pollinated by small flies and other insects (2)
The uses of elder, of leaves, bark, wood, flowers and berries are many and varied. The shrub has been used for centuries as a fast-growing hedgerow plant (6). The hard heart wood was highly valued and the pith, one of the world’s lightest natural solids, is still used today for holding small biological specimens in microscopy (4). Hollowed-out stems make excellent pea-shooters and ‘guns’ for children (4). The leaves have been used to protect livestock from flies, and for various medicinal purposes, including soothing wounds, bruises and headaches. Indeed, elder was something of a cure-all, with every part of the shrub being used to treat a plethora of ills ranging from toothache to the plague. The use of the bark as a purgative dates back to Hippocrates, while today, elder flower water is still used for skin problems and as an eye wash (6). The main surviving uses for elder are culinary. Elder-flower cordial and wine (once known as elder-flower champagne) are still popular today. The berries are made into jellies, jams, syrups, wines, and relishes and the flowers can be battered, fried and eaten as fritters (5).