Many of us probably remember Elderberry from our youth, possibly making Elderberry wine with the flowers or berries. There are between 5 and 30 species of this shrub or small tree. It is native to temperate to subtropical regions of both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Native species of Elderberry are often planted by people wishing to support native butterfly and bird species.
Ornamental varieties of Elderberry are grown in gardens for their showy flowers, fruits and lacy foliage. The Elderberry leaves are anything from 5-30cm long and have serrated edges. The Elderberry flowers appear in late spring and are white or cream coloured. Once the flowers have finished, clusters of small black, blue-black or red berries form. It comes from the Sambuca genus and it is mainly the fruit that is used in cooking and medicine, but the flowers also have various uses.
The flowers of Sambucus nigra are used to produce the popular Elderflower cordial. The French, Austrians and Central Europeans produce Elderflower syrup, commonly made from an extract of Elderflower blossoms, which is added to pancake (Palatschinken) mixes 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.
Wines, cordials and marmalade have been produced from the Elderberry berries or flowers. Fruit pies and relishes are produced with these berries. In Italy (especially in Piedmont) and Germany, the umbels of the Elderberry are battered, fried and then served as a dessert or a sweet lunch with a sugar and cinnamon topping.
Black Elderberry has been used in medicine for hundreds of years including for flu, allergies and other respiratory illnesses. The Elderberry juices have been used as a gargle and even eye drops have been developed using concentrated Elderberry juices. However, the leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots contain a cyanide-induced glycoside, which can give rise to cyanide, so it is advisable not to consume large quantities of this part of the Elderberry, or to use the wood of the Elderberry for toys.