Sambucus nigra | Black Elderberry | Plates
• Scientific Name: Sambucus nigra
• Common Name(s): Black Elderberry, Bourtree, Elderberry, Elder Tree, Elder, Elder-Berry, Elder-Flower, European Elder, Pipe Tree
• Nickname: Plates
• Naturalized: L48
• Group: Dicot
• Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)
• Duration: Perennial
• Growth Habitat: Tree / Shrub
• Known Human Hazards: See Miscellaneous
• Poisonous Look-Alikes: See Miscellaneous
IDENTIFYING CHARACTERISTICS: Sambucus nigra or plates is a large shrub or small tree (trunk usually short) / bushy / 4 to 15 feet tall (rarely 30 feet tall) / white flat-topped flower clusters or drooping clusters of berry-like fruit / individual flowers are star-shaped / compound leaves are opposite along stem / leaflet veins fade or end at teeth tips / bark has cork-like dots. TIME OF YEAR: blooms May to July / fruits August to October. ENVIRONMENT: very rich and moist well-drained soils / heavily forested areas / rocky slopes / cool ravines with heavy moisture / moist woodlands / thickets / fence rows / ditches / usually in sunnier spots / hedgerows / roadsides / waste places / disturbed base-rich and nitrogen rich soils. METHOD OF PREPARATION: ripe fruit raw or cooked (less bitter); fresh or dried (less bitter) / fruit mashed, made into small cakes and dried (by sun or fire) for future use / flowers raw (look out for the insects); being of the Honeysuckle family the flowers are juice / dried flowers for hot or cold tea.
FORM: Sambucus nigra or plates is a large shrub or small tree (trunk usually short) / bushy / spreading / 4 to 15 feet tall (rarely 30 feet tall) / spreading / white flat-topped flower clusters or drooping clusters of berry-like fruit. FLOWERS: sweet-scented / many borne in dense, large, flat-topped, umbrella-like (umbel) clusters / cluster 4 to 10 inches across; with several rays from the base that are again branched / individual flowers are star-shaped and 5 to 6 mm across / mature to produce drooping berrylike fruits. SEPALS: 5. PETALS: 5 / star-shaped / white. LEAVES: opposite / odd pinnately (feather-like and has 1 leaflet at the tip, not 2) compound (leaf of many parts) / 4 to 11 inches long / 5 to 7 (rarely 9) leaflets. LEAFLETS: 5 to 7 (rarely 9) leaflets / lance to elliptical (football) shaped / finely serrated edges / most leaflet veins either fade after leaving the midrib or end at the tip of a tooth, not at a notch between teeth / 2 to 5 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. BARK: green to light grey and smooth when young / has cork-like dots that are lenticels / becomes dark grey to brown with vertical furrows and rough as plant ages. TWIGS: woody / stout / hollow / soft white pithy inner-core / has cork-like dots that are lenticels / buds are very small, red-brown and pointed / buds at the tip of twigs (terminal buds) are mostly lacking. STAMENS: 5 / yellow anthers (tips). FRUIT: berrylike / firm to hard and yellowish to green when not-ripe / soft and juicy when ripe / ranges in taste when ripe / ranges in color when ripe; blue-black, purple-black, black or even amber-red / one-forth inch across / produced in drooping clusters. SEEDS: 3 to 5 per berry. SIZE: 4 to 15 feet tall (rarely 30 feet tall).
• In order to repel insects like mosquitoes, midges and other troublesome flies, dab or spray face and more with leaf decoction. OPTION: Bruise leaves and wear in hat and/or crush them and rub them on face and body.
• The long and hollow (pithy) stems which tend to be very straight were used by the early Native American tribes for making arrow shafts as such stems become woodier with age, such stems were particularly selected during the springtime, they were typically then left to dry with their leaves still on them to be turned into arrows.
• The Native American tribes used the woody stems as spouts to collect maple sap and the sap of other resinous trees. They often took out the soft and poisonous pith within the stem using hot sticks.
• Hollowed out stems can be used to make emergency whistles.
LEGENDS, MYTHS AND STORIES
• The elder stems were turned into animal bugles to pipe elk like sounds and some traditional native hunters still reliant on the old ways of tracking game still use the elderberry stem whistle to successfully lure a handsome elk buck during a hunt.
• Judas was thought to have hanged himself from an Elder Tree. However, since elder is not native to the Palestine region, this story is probably a myth.
• In the Middle Ages it was thought that the Elder tree was home to witches and that cutting down the tree would bring on the wrath of those residing in the branches.
• Shakespeare refers to it as a ‘symbol of grief’.
• An old custom among gypsies forbids them from using its wood in their fires.
• The Russians and the English believe that Elder trees ward off evil spirits.
• It is considered good luck to plant a tree near your home as the Elder will offer protection to the dwellers.
• It is used at weddings to bring good luck to the newlyweds.
• In Wicca rites: The branches of the sacred Elder are used to make magical wands; scattering the leaves in the four winds will bring protection; flutes made form the branches are used to bring forth spirits.
• Human Hazards: Seeds of amber-red fruit have a toxic core. Pit fruit, spit seeds out or swallow seeds whole (do not chew). They will pass safely through the body.
• Poisonous Look-Alikes: Elderberry (EB) can be distinguished from Water Hemlock (WH) by 1 of 4 ways: 1) EB has opposite compound pinnate (feather-like) leaves and opposite leaflets while WH has alternating compound pinnate leaves and opposite leaflets. 2) EB leaf edges have teeth that are very small and close together while WH leaf edges have teeth that are large and far apart. 3) Most, not all, but most veins on EB leaflets either fade after leaving the midrib or end at the tip of a leaflet tooth while most veins on WH leaflets do not fade and clearly end between the teeth, in the notches. 4) WH’s main stem is green with purple splotches and it’s not woody (has no bark like EB).
• Sometimes this plant is referred to as Sambucus nigra var. canadensis by some authorities, because it is regarded as a variety of the European species.
• The tree has been called ‘the medicine chest of the common people’ and has been used in traditional folk medicine for centuries.
• The generic name Sambucus occurs in the writings of Pliny, and is adapted from the Greek word Sambuca, ‘an ancient musical instrument made from the wood of the tree’.
MEDICINAL PROPERTIES: Anti-inflammatory, Aperient, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Expectorant, Haemostatic, Laxative, Anti-bacterial, Purgative, Stimulant, Emetic
PARTS USED: Bark, Flowers, Berries, Leaves
COMMON CONDITIONS: Anxiety – Flower infusion has a long history as a remedy for anxiety or depression • Bites (Insect) – Leaf poultice • Bruise – Leaf infusion compress or leaf poultice • Burns – Leaf infusion (cool) wash and compress or leaf poultice • Cold – Flower infusion, which has antiviral properties, is most effective when taken at the first sign of symptoms • Congestion (Chest) – Drink flower infusion • Cuts – Leaf infusion wash and compress or leaf poultice • Diarrhea – Sun dried or fire dried berries infusion • Fever – Infusion of flowers taken to “sweat out fever” • Inflammation (External) – Leaf infusion compress or leaf poultice • Influenza – Flower infusion, which has antiviral properties, is most effective when taken at the first sign of symptoms • Poisoning (Food) – Inner bark infusion, in large quantity, in excessive doses, to cause vomiting (purge the stomach) • Rash – Flower infusion wash and compress • Rheumatism – Drink dry berry infusion • Sore Throat – Flower infusion, which has antiviral properties, is most effective when taken at the first sign of symptoms. When allowed to cool, the infusion makes a soothing throat gargle • Sores – Leaf infusion to wash and prevent infection; leaf infusion compress is optional • Wounds – Leaf infusion wash and compress or leaf poultice.
• For better memory and to personalize the story a bit; embellish it by incorporating your five senses as much as possible. Mnemonic techniques rely on the fact that your brain uses information from all your senses — touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste — to form memories. Create images that are clear, pleasant, funny, exaggerated or sensual as long as it can help you remember the information. It will also help your memory retention to act out each part of the mnemonic over and over again.
• Mnemonics, shared in the course, are designed to have the distinguishing plant parts trigger the mnemonic when you spot them in the field. This is called the “trigger effect”. If ever you have trouble recalling the complete mnemonic, after spotting a distinguishing plant feature, study all of the plant parts closely; they will remind you.
MNEMONIC NOTE: Of the 52 plants in this course there are 3 that develop clusters of berry-like fruit. They are Burning Bush (Rhus glabra | Smooth Sumac), Condom (Prunus virginiana | Choke Cherry) and Plates (Sambucus nigra | Black Elderberry). Each mnemonic in this course is based on multiple parts of each plant; so that, for example, if the flowers are not in bloom there are other plant parts (parts of the story) available to help remind you of the mnemonic. Now, Burning Bush flowers and fruit resemble it’s nickname. Condom and Plates flowers resemble their nicknames but their fruit (berry clusters) do not. It will be helpful, in this case, when the condom-like or plate-like flowers are not in bloom to remember that Condom berries (unlike Plate berries) have a cherry-like seam down the side and Plate twigs/branches are hollow and have a soft white pith. MNEMONIC: The first thing to do when you see a berry is look for a vagina or a penis. EXPLAINED: Condom berries (unlike Plates berries) have a cherry-like seam (represents her vagina) down the side. Plates’ berries have 2 to 3 seeds (testicles) per berry and it’s twigs/branches (break off a penis) are hollow (urinary tract) and have a soft whitish pith (VD) inside. OPTION: One way to remember associating Plates with penis is through the word “break”. Penis’ are broken (off of the tree or by VD) and plates can be broken.
VIVIDLY IMAGINE: Your mother or grandmother hands you one of the plates, from her china cabinet, to collect berries with for the pie she plans to make. After dinner you chase the pie with a tall cup of milk then start washing dishes. Remember that there are 5 pieces per setting. Look at your hand and count them out: Plate, Cup, Steak Knife, Fork and Spoon. Now place that hand, with the soapy dish cloth, immediately into the tall cup to wash it. As usual, your fingers can’t reach the bottom of the glass and a thick, caked-on milk ring remains at the bottom. Now use that same hand to open the curtains in front of you (over the sink) to look outside while finishing the dishes. You see 10 boys on the grass playing football. 5 are on one side of the ball and 5 are on the other side. By the time you finish washing the dishes they’re bloody, purple, black and blue.
MNEMONIC EXPLAINED: Your mother or grandmother hands you one of the plates (represents the large, white, flat-topped flower clusters), from her china (white) cabinet (the large cabinet reminds you that the flowers/plates come off of a large plant [shrub or small tree]), to collect berries (the word berries was worked into this mnemonic to help you associate berries with this Plates plant during times when the flowers/plates have developed into fruit) with for the pie she plans to make. After dinner you chase the pie with a tall cup of milk then start washing dishes. Remember that there are 5 pieces per setting. Look at your hand (represents individual flowers with 5 petals and count them out: Plate (large white flower clusters), Cup (keep reading), Steak Knife (represents serrated leaflet edges), Spoon (represents round cork-like dots on young bark) and Fork (represents vertical furrows [deep ridges] on aged bark; as if scratched with a fork). Now place that hand, with the soapy dish cloth, immediately into the tall cup to wash it. As usual, your fingers can’t reach the bottom of the glass (in this section your fingers represent most of the leaflet veins that fade out [can’t reach] before reaching leaflet’s edge [bottom of the glass] and a thick, caked-on milk ring remains at the bottom [the caked-on milk, inside of the ‘hollow’ glass, represents the soft white pith in the ‘hollow’ twigs and branches; it does NOT represent a milky sap in the leaves and stems because this plant has none). Now use that same hand to open the curtains (focus on full hand; 5 fingers again) in front of you (over the sink) to look outside while finishing the dishes. You see 10 (5 + 5 = 10) boys on the grass playing football. 5 are on one side of the ball (they represent the typical leaflet count of 5 [sometimes 7 and rarely 9] on each leaf; it’s best to just remember the fact that it’s an odd number because the leaflet count will always be odd [only 1 leaflet at the tip of any odd-pinnately compound, not 2]) and 5 are on the other side (these players represent another 5 leaflet leaf on the ‘opposite’ side [odd-pinnately compound leaves of this plant grow ‘opposite’ along the stem; they go NOT alternate like the poisonous look-alike does] of the ball [represents 2 things; just think of 2 teams over it; 1: the stem with bark, the teams are opposite of and 2: overall leaflet/players shape [elliptical]). By the time you finish washing the dishes they’re bloody, purple, black and blue (blood and bruises represent berry/fruit color range when ripe; blue-black, purple-black, black or even amber-red).