Elder (Sambucus Nigra) Identification

Elder / Summer / Autumn / Edible

Elder and Elder flowers are one of the most well-known wild flavours in the UK and they can be found in abundance throughout the hedgerows.

Botanical Name

Sambucus Nigra

Known Hazards

All green parts except the buds, flowers and fruit of this plant are considered poisons and should be avoided.

Could be Confused With

Ground elder, grows to a maximum of 1.5m high and among a huge array of differences does not have bark and is not a tree.

Rowan, the main difference is rowan leaves are heavily serrated.

Range and Distribution

Temperate to tropical regions of Europe, UK, Western Asia, North and Central America and Northern Africa.


Enjoys moist and dry soils, is almost always found in a sunny spot, this tree can be found in hedgerows, woodlands, garden edges, farmers’ fields, walkways, playing fields and commonly by canals.

Elder Foraging Video

Physical Characteristics

Elder is a deciduous shrub or small tree, growing up to 6m tall and the same wide.


The bark of this tree is a light brown-grey and can be found cracking with a yellowing revealed in between cracks.


The light green and lightly serrated leaves, spear shaped, 5-12cms long and 3-5cms wide, grow in opposing pairs, arranged along a pinnate with five to seven pairs.


The flowers 5-6mm in diameter each have five petals and are borne in large, flat umbrellas which are 10-25cms in diameter.

Elder Flower in Bloom


The fruit grows similarly to the flowers in large collections, they are almost perfectly round, glossy dark purple and measure 5-6mm in diameter, they cause the branches they hang on to droop when they are ripe.

Edible use

Leaves: Herbal use as a strong anti-viral (can cause nausea and vomiting)

Immature flower buds: Pickling, Lacto fermenting

Flowers: Cordial, Sparkling Wine, Tempura, Tea, Ointments

Fruit: Best heated, Wine, Syrups, Juice, Fruit Leather, Cordial, Beers, Ketchup, Chutney, Jam, Frozen in Desserts

How to use the flowers

It’s best to pick elderflowers on a sunny day, when the sun is high in the sky and the scent of the blooms are at their best.

Now, parts of the elder are toxic and contain cyanide so it’s advised not to eat too many of them raw and to avoid the small spindly stems on which you find the flowers. Before we head out to harvest our flowers, it’s worth noting the elder tree is shrouded in myth and magic. It’s believed to be protected by the elder mother, so I always ask permission to pick from this bewitched tree. These blossoms are surprisingly versatile and I have no doubt these recipes below will inspire you in the kitchen.

A classic recipe is of course, elderflower cordial. There are many ways to make this scrumptious beverage and it pairs exceptionally with lemonade, gin, and prosecco. Cheers!

On the subject of drinks, it’s a tradition in my household to make a batch of elderflower champagne or sparkling wine every year. It’s become a true celebration of summer and is one of my all-time favourite foraged tipples.


I am very fond of eating flowers and elderflowers are no exception. A special dessert that has gone down a storm at many a dinner party are elderflower fritters. To elevate this tempting pudding even further you could serve is alongside elderflower cheesecake or ice

Surprisingly, elderflower isn’t just for our sweet tooth and if you are craving something a little more savoury, why not try our elderflower, pea and asparagus risotto.


The flowers are still used by herbalists now to aid inflammation within the respiratory system, including asthma, coughs and hay fever.

The berries are commonly used and stored within syrups, jams, wines and juices to give a boost of vitamins and minerals throughout the winter months, helping to ward of the common winter ailments.


If you cut a branch from this tree the inside or pith can be pushed out fairly easily, using a tent peg or other hard piece of wood, this hollow wood can now be used for loads of things. Making jewelry, beads, pennies, snakes, whistles and even blow darts

View all of our Elderflower & Elderberry Recipes here

1 reply on “Elder (Sambucus Nigra) Identification”

Identification is key!

Maybe you'd like to join us for some hands-on Foraging?

Find our Up coming Courses here