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Elderberry, also known as Sambucus, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae. It is a deciduous shrub or small tree that is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. The plant has a rich history and has been used in traditional medicine, food, and culture for centuries. In this article, we will explore everything about elderberry, from its etymology and description to its cultivation, uses, and nutritional value.


The name “elderberry” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “æld”, which means “old” or “aged”. This refers to the plant’s age-old reputation as a medicinal and spiritual plant. The scientific name Sambucus is derived from the Greek word “sambuca”, which refers to a type of musical instrument made from the plant’s wood.


Elderberry is a deciduous shrub or small tree that grows up to 10 meters (33 feet) tall. Its leaves are compound, with 5-7 leaflets that are dark green in color. The flowers are white or cream-colored and are produced in clusters. The fruit is a small, round berry that is purple or black in color and contains 3-5 seeds.

Taxonomy and Cultivars

Elderberry is classified into several species, including:

  • Sambucus nigra (European elderberry)
  • Sambucus canadensis (American elderberry)
  • Sambucus chinensis (Chinese elderberry)
  • Sambucus cerulea (Blue elderberry)

There are also several cultivars, including:

  • ‘Black Beauty’ (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’)
  • ‘Black Lace’ (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’)
  • ‘Adams’ (Sambucus canadensis ‘Adams’)

Distribution and Habitat

Elderberry is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. It is commonly found in wetlands, woods, and hedgerows. The plant prefers well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade.


Elderberry is cultivated for its fruit, flowers, and medicinal properties. It is a low-maintenance plant that requires regular pruning to promote fruiting and flowering. The plant can be propagated through cuttings, layering, or seed.

Production and Uses

Elderberry is used in various products, including:

  • Jam and preserves
  • Wine and beer
  • Tea and tinctures
  • Supplements and capsules
  • Skincare products

The plant has several medicinal properties, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiviral
  • Antioxidant
  • Immune-boosting


Elderberry contains several bioactive compounds, including:

  • Anthocyanins (responsible for the fruit’s purple color)
  • Flavonoids
  • Phenolic acids
  • Terpenes


Elderberry has a sweet and tart flavor, similar to a combination of blueberries and blackberries.


The raw or unripe fruit, leaves, and stems of the elderberry plant contain a toxic compound called sambunigrin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cooking or processing the plant eliminates this toxicity.


Elderberry is rich in:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B6
  • Potassium
  • Fiber
  • Antioxidants


Elderberry has a rich cultural history, with several myths and legends surrounding its use. In some cultures, the plant is believed to have spiritual properties and is used in rituals and ceremonies.


Sambucus nigraEuropean elderberry, native to Europe and Western Asia
Sambucus canadensisAmerican elderberry, native to North America
Sambucus chinensisChinese elderberry, native to Eastern Asia
‘Black Beauty’Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’, a popular cultivar with dark purple fruit
‘Black Lace’Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’, a cultivar with dark purple leaves and fruit
‘Adams’Sambucus canadensis ‘Adams’, a cultivar with large fruit and high yields


  • “The elder tree is a symbol of protection, good fortune, and wisdom.” – Unknown
  • “Elderberry is a plant of the gods, and its fruit is a gift from the heavens.” – Ancient Greek proverb

In conclusion, elderberry is a versatile and valuable plant that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, food, and culture. Its rich