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Elder Tree Growing Guide

Elder Tree Growing Guide

SHORTCUTS: Ideal Environment, How to Plant, How to Water, Companion Planting, How to Propagate, How to Harvest, Parts Used, Preparations, Uses, Key Constituents, Key Actions, Research.


Sambucus nigra
InformationElder tree is a deciduous tree that grows up to 10 meters, with oval leaves, cream flowers and dark berries. There is allot of folklore attached to Elder tree, for example in England many people won’t cut down an Elder tree and woodcutters would apparently recite a placatory rhyme to the Elder Mother (1). Elder tree is mostly used for flu, colds, hay fever (1), diarrhea, rheumatism (3) and as food in cordials, marmalade and syrups.

Growing Environment

Ideal Environment 

Elder trees will grow in a variety of conditions including both wet and dry fertile soils, primarily in sunny locations. They can also be planted as a bush in a pot or outside in the garden. They are native to European woods and hedges (1).

How to Plant

How to Plant 

Its easiest to buy a tree or grow your own from a cutting taking during spring.  Plant in fertile soil (use compost) in a sunny or partly sunny spot and allow enough room for the tree to grow without being crowded (a few meters).  You can let the tree grow large or cut down a third every year which is said to increase fruit production.  You can also add organic fertiliser in the spring and mulch year around.


How to Water

Water the trees at least once a week during warmer and drier periods and every other week during the winter but ensure the ground does not dry out completely.  Elder trees prefer moist areas and should be watered frequently enough if there is no rain.  Mulch helps to keep weeds away and keep the moisture in the ground.

Companion Plants

Companion Planting 

Elder tree is beneficial because it attracts bees and insects when flowering and birds when the berries are ripening.

There are no specific plants but you can have other edible shrubs but remember to consider the shade given by the tree as many edible and medicinal plants prefer a sunny spot.

Here are the Companion Plants by group: Herbs, Flowers, Trees, Vegetables, Berries, Fruit and Mushrooms

How to Propagate

How to Propagate 

You can grow elder tree from seeds, sources recommend planting the seeds in trays and cover with plastic, keep them moist but not soggy, they will apparently germinate the following spring, but it can be sooner depend on how warm it is.  Its easy to create cuttings in late spring or early summer when the new growth appears. Take softwood cuttings from vigorous stems, strip off the leaves from the lower third, use rooting hormone or honey and insert into a prepared pot. New growth should appear four to six weeks later.


How to Harvest

Flowers are harvested late spring and the berries are picked in early autumn. Its easiest to cut of entire clusters of flowers or berries.

The branches will start to drop when the berries are ready. You can remove the berries from the branches with a fork.  Unripe berries can be separated in water, they will float.

Medicinal Plants Parts Used

Parts Used

The fresh flowers can be used and also dried. The berries are toxic raw and should be cooked, both the fresh and dried berries can be used.

Medicinal Preparations


Infusion of the flowering tops can be used for colds (take half a cup of infusion 3 times a day), a tincture of the flowering tops works for hay fever and rheumatism / arthritis (1 tsp with water taken a few times a day), a cream can be made from the flowering tops and berries, and a decoction of the berries can be used for rheumatic aches (1).

Plant Uses


Coughs and colds, catarrh and allergies, arthritis, acute infections with fever, headache and nausea, rhinitis, asthma, croup, hay fever, conjunctivitis, rheumatism, pharyngitis, diarrhea, tonsilitis, and stomatitis (1,3).


Key Constituents

Flowers & Berries: Flavonoids, triterpenes, volatile oil, sterols, tannins, mucilage, Minerals, vitamin A & C, iron, sambucin, anthocyanocides, pectin, sugar, fixed oils (linoleic, linolenic). Leaves: Cyanogenic glycosides and Bark: Lectins, tannins, baldrianic acid (1, 3).

Key Actions

Key Actions

Flowers: mild diaphoretic, mild laxative, diuretic, alterative, demulcent, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, anticatarrhal, caminative, emetic, anti-inflammatory. Berries: diaphoretic, laxative, diuretic, anti-rheumatic, emunctory stimulant (all excretory organs or ducts), anti-neuralgic, alterative, carminative, emetic (1, 3).



In a placebo-controlled study from Norway, elderberry was shown to be effective for treating Influenza A and B. People using the elderberry extract recovered much faster than those only on a placebo (20).

USEFUL LINKS: About the Growing Guides, The Medicine Garden, Companion Plants, Basic Preparations and Plant Constituents. Disclaimer. References.

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