Thursday, June 19, 2008

Elderflower and The Elderberry

The Elderflower and Elderberry
Elderberry bushes grow in the wild and most often where there is a great supply of water. It frequently is at the edge of a ditch as this bush was, or creek bed where the blossoms can be seen. As I was driving to my beautician's shop in the country I spotted this bush. By mid-August small purple berries will ripen on the stems, one for each blossom. The tiny berries are time consuming to strip but the bitter berries sweetened make a pie with a great memorable flavor. My recipe for Elderberry Pie was posted April 12, 2008.
I was able to find some information on the plant/berry and thought I could include just for you.

Botanical: Sambucus nigra
Family: Adoxaceae (moschatel) - formerly Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) 
Other common names: Black Elder, Boor Tree, Ellanwood, Elder, Ellhorn, European Elder, Pipe Tree, German Elder, Bountry, Englishman's Grape, Black-berried European Elder, Elder Bush "Elder be the Lady's tree, burn it not - or cursed you'll be." (Ancient rhyme from the pagan belief that held the Elder tree sacred to the Moon Goddess.) 
Loaded with vitamins A, B and C, Elderberry stimulates the immune system and protects against free radicals that attack healthy cells.

History:Elderberry is a deciduous, perennial, large shrub (or small tree) that reaches a height and spread of about fifteen feet, but occasionally rising to forty feet. The Elder tree is native to Europe but has been naturalized in the Americas. The leaves are opposite, pinnate with five-to-nine serrate-edged leaflets. They bear large clusters of small white or cream-colored flowers in the late spring and are followed by clusters of small bluish or black berries. Some Elderberry species have lifespans between eighty and one hundred years. The Elder tree prefers rich, moist soil and is usually found in heavily forested areas and on rocky slopes in the temperate and subtropical regions of both hemispheres. The common American Elder (Sambucus canadensis) is native to North America, where Native Americans used it medicinally and in their diets; and its European relative (Sambucus nigra) - both species bearing blue-black berries - have been used in the same manner for thousands of years. The berries provide a very valuable food resource for many birds and butterflies and, of course, herbal medicine. Evidence of its cultivation may be found at Stone Age village sites in Switzerland and Italy. In ancient times, the Elder tree was believed to have mystical properties and was considered good luck. Having an Elder tree near the home was thought to bring happy marriages, prosperity and healthy children. The spirits that lived within the tree protected against disease, evil spirits and all common ailments. In the Middle Ages, everyone knew that cutting down an Elder tree would incur the wrath of the witches who called it home, and it was even bad luck to make furniture from its wood. The Elder tree was once called "the medicine chest of the country people," and for centuries the tree was a popular Gypsy remedy for colds, influenza and neuralgia. The leaves were touted by European herbalists to be pain relieving and to promote healing of injuries when applied as a poultice. American Choctaw Indians used Elder to cure migraine headaches and burns, and Native American herbalists widely used the plant for infections, coughs and skin conditions. Elderberries have long been used as a food and drink, including Elderberry wine, pies, jellies, syrups, cordials and lemonade. Both the Elderberries and flowers are used in herbal medicine. The berries are best not eaten raw, as they are mildly poisonous, causing vomiting (particularly if eaten unripe). The mild cyanide toxicity is destroyed by cooking. All green parts (and roots) of the plant are poisonous, containing toxic cyanogenic glycosides. Elderberry is rich in vitamins A, B and C, riboflavin, niacin, protein, essential fatty acids, beta-carotene, flavonoids (anthocyanin and quercetin), essential oils, tannins and mucilage.
From the Cleveland Clinic:  
  • Elderberry is derived from a tall bush called Sambucus nigra.  Only the flowers and ripe berries are used for medicinal purposes.
  • Elderberry is considered to have antiviral properties that fight upper respiratory infections, influenza, and bronchitis.  It may inhibit replication of influenza A and B, as well as herpes simplex virus-1. 
  • Elderberry contains flavonoids, which act as antioxidants and are considered to have immune-system boosting properties.
  • The bark of the elderberry has been used as a diuretic, laxative, and emetic (induces vomiting). 
  • The bark, leaves, seeds and unripe berries (but not the flowers) contain a cyanide-like compound that is potentially toxic. Cyanide poisoning from bark, root, leaves or juice may induce tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and cause serious long-term effects.
  • In the well-conducted human clinical trials currently available regarding the use of the flowers of ripe elderberries, evidence to recommend its therapeutic use was not definitive.

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