Elder

Sambucus nigra

About

Elder is a shrub of woodland edge, hedgerows and grassland scrub, but also be found on waste ground, in cemeteries and even on rubbish tips. It prefers rich, fertilised soils, so is a common sight in urban areas and cultivated ground. Despite its reputation as a bad-smelling, opportunistic 'weed', Elder is regularly used as food - the autumn berries and spring flowers can both be eaten (the latter sometimes battered and fried) or the blossom can be used to make the popular elderflower cordial.

How to identify

Elder can be recognised by its strong-smelling, compound leaves (each leaf is divided into five to seven leaflets), the white umbels (umbrella-like clusters) of flowers in the spring and summer, and the glossy black-purple berries during the autumn.

Where to find it

Widespread.

Habitats

When to find it

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • Novermber
  • December
  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

How can people help

Elder is an important food source for insects, such as hoverflies, looking for nectar, and birds, such as Blackbirds and warblers, looking for autumnal berries. Well-known for its use in tea, cordial and jam-making, it is a food source for humans too. Try planting native shrub species like Elder in your garden - these will grow to provide food and shelter for wildlife and plenty of opportunities for homemade goodies too. To find out more about wildlife-friendly gardening, visit our Wild About Gardens website: a joint initiative with the RHS, there's plenty of facts and tips to get you started.

Species information

Common name
Elder
Latin name
Sambucus nigra
Category
Trees and shrubs
Statistics
Height: up to 6m but sometimes up to 10m
Conservation status
Common.