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Post new topic   Reply to topic    Irish Gardeners Forum Home -> Shrubs in Ireland ... Hedging in Ireland

Native Irish Elder / Elderberry... Sambucus nigra .. An Trom

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James Kilkelly
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2007 1:19 am    Post subject: Native Irish Elder / Elderberry... Sambucus nigra .. An Trom Reply with quote

Native Irish Elder / Elderberry... Sambucus nigra .. An Trom

This native shrub and one that warrants inclusion within your garden is the elderberry bush, a plant linked to this country through growth, legend and medicine. Elder is a deciduous shrub or small tree, which rarely exceeds 7 metres in height, it is more usually seen as a plant of approximately 3 metres tall with a similar spread. Growing at a fast rate this vertical shooting shrub can be found growing wild on limey, nitrogen-rich soils within hedgerows, scrub/wasteland, woodland edges and throughout many farmyard areas, primarily around the edges of dung pits.

. Native Irish Elder (Sambucus nigra) stem, leaf and flower, photo / pic / image.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Dipsacales
Family: Adoxaceae
Genus: Sambucus
Species: S. nigra
Binomial name
Sambucus nigra

Chromosome number: 2n=36.

You may know of the Elder through one of its other common names such as European Black Elderberry, black elder bush, Boon-tree, Bore tree, Bourtree, Borral Buttery Wood, Pipe Tree, or perhaps the most international of all, the Latin name Sambucus nigra. No matter what Elder was known as in Irelands past, one thing is for certain it was always held up as an unlucky plant often connected with the fairy folk and their mischievous tricks. For example, it was purported that to make a child's cradle from the wood of the elder was an open invitation for the fairies to steal the child away.

Trí comartha láthraig mallachtan: tromm, tradna, nenaid. (Three tokens of a cursed site: elder, a corncrake, nettles).
According to this old Irish saying there are three signs of a cursed or barren place: the elder, the nettle and the lonesome calling corncrake. This has some basis in truth, as the elder is a very early colonizer of bare land, the seed 0f this pioneer species arriving through droppings from passing birds.

Aside from the less than flattering legends associated with the elder, it does hold a valuable place throughout our history as a medicinal plant. Dubbed by some as 'the medicine chest of the country folk', extracts from the elders bark, leaves, flowers, fruits and root were used to treat every ailment from burns to respiratory problems and flu's. In fact, just recently lab tests have suggested that "Sambucol" a herbal remedy that contains an extract of elderberries could well be effective in neutralizing the infection properties of the H5N1 bird flu virus.

If you are looking for products with extract of elderberry you may be able to source some here.... Elderberry extracts

All these legendry and medicinal properties are fine, but what will the elder offer your garden, I hear you ask? Well in blooms, each June and July you can expect 10-20 cm wide clusters of 5 petalled, creamy coloured flowers.
Smelt from a distance the scent of these blooms is sweet and heady, but close up the scent intensifies to an overpowering, almost fishy aroma. This leads the flowers to be pollinated more so by flies than bees, which is similar to our other native, the hawthorn.

All the fertilized flowers become fruits, which ripen in August and September to the plants trademark juicy dark purple, almost black, berries. The drooping clusters of 5mm wide individual fruits has been used to add flavour and colour to wine, jams, sauces and chutneys, however be aware that when uncooked they have been known to cause stomach upsets in some people.

. Elderberries, photo / pic / image.

Powerfully aromatic leaves surround the fruits and flowers of the elder, each leaf divided into five or seven lance-like leaflets with finely toothed edges. So strong is the aroma released whenever this foliage is crushed, that it renders the plant resistant to cattle and rabbit grazing. The leaves arranged in opposite pairs, can often open as early as January, at a time when many plants are still in winter slumber.

Everything, flowers, berries and leaves are carried on branches that are almost hollow, save for a soft spongy core. Once their center is cored out, the furrowed branches and grayish warty twigs lend themselves very well to the manufacture of wind instruments such as whistles and pipes. These merry making instruments are ideal for entertaining both man and fairy alike, if legend is to be believed.

So there you have it, the elder, a plant well worth growing within your site, coping with partial shade, coastal winds, harsh pruning and the occasional tall tale or legend.

. Sambucus nigra botanical drawing, photo / pic / image.

Other interesting facts about our elder.

The scented leaves of the elder were often used as a natural insect repellant, tied to a horse's mane, hung in milking parlor doorways, and rubbed on the skin and hair to keep the flies at bay.

As well as having a strong scent, large quantities elder leaves are thought to have a mild narcotic effect. Old legends warn of sleeping under the elder, for fear you may never wake again.

Another elderberry legend claims that if a maiden washes her face in the dew of elderflowers, she will prolong or retain her youthful beauty. In fact extracts of elder are used in skin cleansers to this day.

The flowers of the elder are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs), so one plant can fertilise itself to produce berries.

The berries yield brown, blue and purple dyes, with the black dye used for darkening grey hair.

Many people believe that elder is the tree from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself after betraying Jesus.

Elder wood is white, fine-grained and easily polished.

As a fuel for burning elder wood is poor, due to a high amount of sap it spits whilst burning.

If you wish to take cutting for propagation of the elder, do so from July to September.

Chart shows approximate distribution of the native plant within Ireland, each dot is a 10km square in which the species grows.

Video. Picking Elderberries for Home Winemaking.

Back to native Irish shrubs.

Elder images courtesy
James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service,
Gil Wojciech, Polish Forest Research Institute,

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Her Outdoors
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 1:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

We were also told as children that if someone was hit with an elder stick that they wouldn't grow any bigger!!
Love the outdoors!!
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 21, 2010 8:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

elderflower drink,2 elderflowers 1 1/2lbs of sugar 8pts of water 1 lemon pared not grated + juice of same 1tbls of white wine vinegar,stir and steep for 24hrs,strain and bottle,sit for two weeks.the ultimate taste of grans recipe and one which i make every summer
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

i have been trying to grow elder in my hedging by cutting stalks off the one growing down our road,but their not taking,what am i doing wrong?
i want to have a couple growing here in my garden
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:53 am    Post subject: food for birds Reply with quote

Do the seeds stay on the tree in winter too so that birds can snack on them? After last year's hard winter, I'm looking for shrubs that will continue to give foraging material into Jan/Feb/Mar the cruel months.
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mountainy man
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 25, 2010 1:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

hi ormandsview,
the berries will be gone long before winter they are just too tasty for the birds and in homemade wine.
mabey - holly , rowan (although a tree), cotoneaster, hawthorn, guelder rose, dog rose, rosa rugosa, some types of berberis, whitethorn, and lots more just cant think at the mo. It will vary how long the fruits will last for , you will always need to feed them extra no matter how productive the bushes and trees are, especially if we get a repeat performance of last winter. good luck

if you can see the mountain its gonna rain if you can't its allready raining !
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 06, 2010 5:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

we made such a nice elderflower beer from this shrub, its great because it is really plentiful and very nice.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 06, 2010 11:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have quite a few baby Elder trees up for grabs if anyone in the locality would like them. I am not as fit as I would like to be at the moment, and havn't got the go in me to put them all in myself. Embarassed Send me a private message if you would like any of them, and we can discuss the best way to get them to you. Oh, and if you want some Sloe and maybe a few Crab Apple trees I have a surpluss of those going for nothing too. Contact me if you're interested, you'd be doing me a big favour Smile
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2010 6:41 pm    Post subject: Propagating Elderberry Bushes Reply with quote

My husband and I discovered several Elderberry Bushes (some over 6 ft tall) on our property here is South Mississippi (USA). We decided to harvest and make wine. We had just enough berries for one batch...decided to try my hand at propagating. As I firmly believe that all containers should at some time become planters, I have re-purposed old ice chests. Open the spout at the bottom, fill with about one inch of gravel, then good composted potting soil. Prepare cuttings by removing all but the top few leaves and insert into the soil. Mine sit on the west side of the house under the shade of the oak trees. Out of the 15 or so cuttings all have taken root except for three of them. We are looking forward to a bountiful harvest for next years wine.
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