Native throughout much of Europe, the Sambucus Nigra is commonly referred to by a number of other names including Black Elder, Elderberry, European Black Elderberry, European Elderberry, Elder, and European Elder. A perennial shrub, the Sambucus Nigra is a member of the Caprifoliaceae or Honeysuckle family. Today, it continues to be grown in Europe as well as well as throughout much of the world offering moderate climates including North America.
This fast-growing tree can reach a height of 19 feet, especially in nitrogen-rich soils. The Sambucus Nigra is deciduous and hardy. It grows quickly when an optimal growing environment is available. It has a tolerant disposition and can grow without shade, in semi-shady conditions, sandy soil, loam, and clay. The Black Elderberry shrub produces fragrant flowers that are white. The flowers produce green berries which turn to red and finally to black when fully ripe.
The Black Elderberry is shrouded in mystery and legend. Considered an emblem of death and sorrow, this poisonous-berry producing shrub was thought by the Danish to house a dryad by the name of Hylde-Moer. Should the tree be chopped down, the dryad would haunt those responsible forever. Other tales of woe suggest that harming the tree in anyway, even to use a few twigs for kindling would lead to dire results. Ill luck would surely follow any individual who did not take heed of the warnings. Branches from the Elder shrub were buried with the dead in some cultures to keep evil spirits away, allowing the dead to rest in peace.
The deep purple berries are used to bake pies or make homemade wine as their flavor improves with processing. They have been included in recipes to add either color or flavor in jellies, jams, chutneys, and preserves. The flowers are also used to add flavor to jams, jellies, and stewed fruit mixes. They can also be used to produce a greenish tint to oils. Dried flowers are used to make a tea offering a sweet flavor. When eaten raw, elderberry flowers are said to be crisp and delicious. They should be ingested with caution though to avoid getting any of the leaf.
The leaves of Sambucus Nigra produce an unpleasant odor when bruised and rubbed on the skin. This remedy was used years ago to keep insects away. The leaves and berries can lead to illness in the form of vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea when eaten raw. In fact, their toxicity precludes the advisability of eating them raw, especially since death is a possibility.
Over the years, the Sambucus Nigra has been referred to as "nature’s medicine chest." Its berries, flowers, and bark have traditionally been included in medicinal treatments for skin infections and diabetes. They have also been frequently used to minimize the inflammation commonly associated with the healing process for cuts and puffiness in general. Today, the anti-inflammatory capabilities of the Sambucus Nigra shrub are considered quite beneficial when blended into skin care treatments designed to offer healing relief for puffiness under the eye area, rosacea, and blemishes. It is also included in formulas designed to tone and purify the skin.
Herbalists credit the black elderberry with anticancer, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory capabilities. However, the FDA advises that many of these claims are undocumented and a doctor’s approval should be obtained prior to taking supplements made from black elderberry. Native Americans have used parts of the shrub to treat a variety of health issues including colds and respiratory problems.
Adverse interactions can occur when black elderberry is taken by individuals who are currently using diabetic medications, diuretics, laxatives, prescriptions for asthma and other respiratory conditions. Adverse reactions can also occur with individuals taking immunosuppressant drugs.
Every part of the Sambucus Nigra contains large quantities of vitamin A, vitamin C, anthocyanins, and flavanoids. Considered a potent source of antioxidants, the anthocyanins offer active benefits in a variety of skincare formulations. The flavanoids contained in Black Elderberry include rutin and quercetin, both of which have given evidence during clinical studies of being potent antioxidants.
Extract taken from the Black Elderberry is said to offer antiviral and antibacterial capabilities that have proven quite useful when included in skin care treatments intended to clear up infection. The extract, which is made from the black elderberry plant, contains ingredients offering antioxidant capabilities. It is currently produced in several countries including the United States, Germany, Austria, and Italy.