Elder is a very valuable plant to have in the garden. The leaves often begin to open as early as January and are fully open in April. The leaves fall in October/November in exposed sites, later in sheltered positions. Young stems can be killed by late frosts but they are soon replaced from the ground level.
Very tolerant of pruning, plants can be cut back to ground level and will regrow from the base.
Very resistant to the predations of rabbits. The flowers are very attractive to insects. The fruit is very attractive to birds and this can draw them away from other cultivated fruits. The elder is an early colonizer of derelict land, the seed arriving in the defecations of birds and mammals. It is a very good pioneer species for re-establishing woodlands.
Elder has a very long history of household use as a medicinal herb and is also much used by herbalists. The plant has been called 'the medicine chest of country people'. The flowers are the main part used in modern herbalism, though all parts of the plant have been used at times.
A very easily grown plant, it tolerates most soils and situations, growing well on chalk, but prefers a moist loamy soil. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Tolerates some shade but fruits better in a sunny position.
Sow 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.
Flowers - Raw, Cooked as a Tea, Flavouring.
Fruit - Raw, Cooked, Dried as a Jam, Preserves, Pie.
Fruit, Flowers - Fermented as an Alcohol, Wine.
The leaves and stems are poisonous.