Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Elderberry

From warding off evil to tapping maple trees, the elderberry bush lives up to its name dating back  to prehistoric man1.  But don’t eat the berries raw; they are poisonous.  This native shrub fascinates for its many elixir, practical, and folk uses.   Black Elderberries have almost 5 times as many anthocyanins as Blueberries and twice the overall antioxidant capability of cranberries.  And Black Elderberry has been found to be effective against the H5N1 strain of Avian Flu; and when given to patients, scientists have found the Black Elderberry, has the ability to ward off flu infections quickly.1  

Take a closer look at the at the black-berried elder, Sambucus nigra:

The flowers of Sambucus nigra are used to produce elderflower cordial.
The French, Austrians and Central Europeans produce elderflower syrup, commonly made from an extract of elderflower blossoms, which is added to Palatschinken filling instead of blueberries.
People throughout much of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe use a similar method to make a syrup which is diluted with water and used as a drink. Based on this syrup, Fanta markets a soft drink variety called "Shokata" which is sold in 15 countries worldwide.
In the United States, this French elderflower syrup is used to make elderflower marshmallows.
St. Germain, a French liqueur, is made from elderflowers. Hallands Fläder, a Swedish akvavit, is flavoured with elderflowers.
The Italian liqueur Sambuca is flavoured with oil obtained from the elderflower.
In Germany, yoghurt desserts are made with both the berries and the flowers.
Wines, cordials and marmalade have been produced from the berries or flowers.
Fruit pies and relishes are produced with berries. In Italy (especially in Piedmont) and Germany, the umbels of the elderberry are batter coated, fried and then served as a dessert or a sweet lunch with a sugar and cinnamon topping.
In Germany, the dish is known as "Hollerküchel".
Hollowed elderberry twigs have traditionally been used as spiles to tap maple trees for syrup.
In Romania, a slightly fermented soft beverage (called "socata" or "suc de soc") is traditionally produced by letting the flowers macerate, with water, yeast and lemon for 2-3 days. A similar drink is produced in the UK, but in this case the last stage of fermentation is allowed to proceed in a closed pressure proof bottle to give a fizzy drink called elderflower champagne.

Ornamental varieties of Sambucus are grown in gardens for their showy flowers, fruits and lacy foliage.
Native species of elderberry are often planted by people wishing to support native butterfly and bird species.
Elderberries, raw
Sambucus spp.
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
305 kJ (73 kcal)
18.4 g
7 g
0.5 g
0.66 g
79.80 g
Vitamin A equiv.
30 μg (4%)
0.07 mg (6%)
0.06 mg (5%)
0.5 mg (3%)
0.14 mg (3%)
0.23 mg (18%)
Folate (vit. B9)
6 μg (2%)
36 mg (43%)
38 mg (4%)
1.6 mg (12%)
5 mg (1%)
39 mg (6%)
280 mg (6%)
0.11 mg (1%)
Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are roughly approximated
using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Black elderberry has been used medicinally for hundreds of years.
Some preliminary studies demonstrate that elderberry may have a measurable effect in treating the flu, alleviating allergies, and boosting overall respiratory health.
Elder is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, dissolved in wine, for rheumatism and traumatic injury. 

Branches from the elder are also used to make the fujara, koncovka and other uniquely Slovakian flutes. Similar musical instruments (furulya) are made of elderberry (fekete bodza, Sambucus nigra) in Hungary and other parts of Eastern Europe.

The ripe, cooked berries (pulp and skin) of most species of Sambucus are edible. However, most uncooked berries and other parts of plants from this genus are poisonous. Sambucus nigra is the only variety considered to be non-toxic, but it is still recommended that its berries be cooked slightly for culinary purposes.   The leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots of Sambucus plants can contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside (a glycoside which gives rise to cyanide as the metabolism processes it). Ingesting a sufficient quantity of cyanide-inducing glycosides can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body.
In 1984, a group of twenty-five people were sickened, apparently by elderberry juice pressed from fresh, uncooked Sambucus mexicana berries. All recovered quickly, however, including one individual who was hospitalized after drinking five glasses. Such reported incidents are rare.

The berries are a very valuable food resource for many birds. In Northern California elderberries are a favorite food for migrating Band-tailed Pigeons. Flocks can strip an entire bush in less than an hour. Elders are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Brown-tail, Buff Ermine, Dot Moth, Emperor Moth, the Engrailed, Swallow-tailed Moth and the V-pug. The crushed foliage and immature fruit have a strong fetid smell.
Dead elder wood is the preferred habitat of the mushroom Auricularia auricula-judae, also known as "Judas' ear fungus".
The pith of elder has been used by watchmakers for cleaning tools before intricate work.

Folklore is extensive and can be wildly conflicting depending on region.
  • In some areas, the "elder tree" was supposed to ward off evil influence and give protection from witches, while other beliefs say that witches often congregate under the plant, especially when it is full of fruit.
  • In some regions, superstition, religious belief, or tradition prohibits the cutting of certain trees for bonfires, most notably in witchcraft customs the elderberry tree; "Elder be ye Lady's tree, burn it not or cursed ye'll be" – A rhyme from the Wiccan rede.
  • If an elder tree was cut down, a spirit known as the Elder Mother would be released and take her revenge. The tree could only safely be cut while chanting a rhyme to the Elder Mother.”2

Sources: 1 , 2

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