Elder (Sambucus nigra)
The Elder tree, Sambucus nigra, is a very fast growing, short lived, adaptable small tree or large shrub which will do well in most soil conditions. In truth, however, it has a rather untidy habit, although its flowers and lacy leaves are very pretty. There are many colourful cultivars of the common Elder too. The native tree should be cut out of hedges as it tends to take over. It is said to produce a chemical that suppresses surrounding species - i.e. it is allelopathic - but is a must in a forest garden. It's also known as the Elderberry or Elderflower tree.
Elder's many plates of fragrant white flowers are helpful for insects and cordial makers alike (try them lightly fried, too - in fact, there are lots and lots of Elder recipes), and birds and winemakers can split the berries between them. Don't eat any part of the plant raw, however - leaves, flowers and berries are poisonous. Processed, however, Elderflower cordial is also said to be a sedative, the flowers a good skin tonic, and rubbed on the skin Elder leaves work as an insect repellent. It used to be all the rage with herbalists, who recommended its use to treat all sorts of complaints, from gout to nosebleeds. John Evelyn called it “a kind of Catholicon against all infirmities whatever”. Elderberries are high in vitamin C, too, and will make a useful dye. The stems of a coppiced Elder tree are very useful around the garden - hollow and light, but surprisingly strong and reluctant to rot. "Aeld" is Anglo Saxon for fire - the idea is that folk used elder stems to blow through to get a fire going. The wood of mature trees is hard and good to carve.
Value For Wildlife
Sambucus nigra attracts a lot of wildlife including the elder aphid (and of course ladybirds), and at least a dozen moths use it as a food plant. Small mammals eat the berries and flowers, which also attract a range of pollinators.
Elder is said to be very bad luck to bring Elder into the house and particularly to burn it, but grow it outside to block the entry of rats and the devil! Curiously, in Medieval times it was said to be the tree from which Judas hanged himself. Along with the Judas Tree ...
Our Plants For Sale
Provenance certificates are available on request for our Elder trees, which are from the Southwest of England.
Suppliers: Perrie Hale Forest Nursery
Your purchase of elder helps us support a range of charities, which are related to the products we sell.
See our planting and size guide for details and tips on planting Elder trees.
All these Elder trees are bare root, and are consequently available for delivery from November until March. During the lifting season there may be up to two weeks delay between placing the order and dispatching due to weather conditions or pressure of orders, which are dealt with in date sequence. Orders placed for Elder trees between March and October are confirmed for dispatch from November.
Time to Ultimate Height
Clay, loam, sand, chalk
Neutral, acid, alkaline
Sheltered or exposed
Full or partial sun