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Sambucus caerulea, Blue Elder


A fast-growing but short-lived tree in the wild. A decoction of the leaves, when watered on plants, repels caterpillars. The dried flower stems repel insects and rodents. The best flavoured of the North American elders.

The hollow stems can be used as flutes and pipes. The pith of the stems has been used as a tinder for lighting fires. 

Wood - light, soft, weak, coarse grained. Of no commercial value, though it is used locally for flutes, skewers, pegs, straws etc.

Tolerates most soils, including chalk, but prefers a moist loamy soil. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Tolerates some shade but is best in a sunny position. Tolerates atmospheric pollution and coastal situations.

Seed can be sown in the spring in a cold frame but will probably germinate better if it is given 2 months warm followed by 2 months cold stratification first. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. If good growth is made, the young plants can be placed in their permanent positions during the early summer. Otherwise, either put them in a sheltered nursery bed, or keep them in their pots in a sheltered position and plant them out in spring of the following year.

Edible uses

Fruit - raw, cooked or used in preserves. Rather sweet and juicy but full of small seeds, this is the best flavoured of the North American elders. The fruit is rather nice raw. The fruit can be dried for later use. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter and is borne in large clusters. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.

Flowers - raw or cooked in fritters etc. Very pleasant and refreshing raw.

A pleasant tea is made from the dried flowers.

The leaves, green fruits and stems of some (if not all) members of this genus are poisonous. The fruit of this species has been known to cause stomach upsets to some people. Any toxin the fruit might contain is liable to be of very low toxicity and is destroyed when the fruit is cooked.


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