Hardy deciduous shrub tolerant of many soils and situations, including windy and maritime locations (tolerant of salt winds). Known as a ‘medicine chest’ this is an extremely useful plant to have in the garden. The flowers can be eaten raw, dipped in batter and fried, used to flavour other stewed fruits, and to make a lemonade or sparkling wine. The berries can be used raw or cooked, fresh or dried, to add colour and flavour to other fruit preserves, or made into wine. They contain 6–35 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams of fruit, (up to 60% of the RDA), are high in dietary fiber, and a good source of phenolic acids (powerful antioxidants), flavonols and anthocyanins.
The inner bark, flowers and leaves have a myriad of medicinal uses – for pain relief, swelling, inflammation, to stimulate the production of urine and to induce sweating. The bark was used as a diuretic, laxative and to induce vomiting. The dried berries or juice have been used to treat influenza, infections, sciatica, headaches, dental pain, heart pain and nerve pain, as well as a laxative and diuretic. North American tribes used their local species of Sambucus in similar ways as this European species. They also dried large quantities of the berries for use during the winter.
Note that the uncooked berries, leaves, twigs, branches, seeds, roots and flowers all contain toxic compounds.
In the garden the flowers are fragrant and attractive to insects, and the berries can help to entice birds away from your target fruit crops. The flowers can also be added to compost heaps to help activate the decomposition process. The leaves can be made into an insecticidal spray or powdered and dusted around the garden. They can also be rubbed onto skin as a mosquito repellent. Different parts of the plant yield various colour dyes, and the mature wood is white and fine-grained, easily cut and polished, and therefore prized for making small items such as toys. All this from one plant!
Plants need some moisture to get established but are drought hardy once older. Sun or part shade. Height to 6m and suckers can spread to 6m, but the whole plant can be cut to ground level if desired and will regrow well. PB5 Certified organic plant.