For me, identifying elder is so important due to my obsession with elder-flower cordial! I love to make my own so knowing hot spots and flowering season is crucial for gathering enough flowers for the cordial. Here is my recipe for elder-flower cordial on my sister blog, Hannah’s Hens. Later in the year I’m looking forward to making elder-berry wine so again, knowledge of the fruiting season is useful to me.
Smudge has always loved to help me collect elder-flowers from her puppy years to now. With it being quite a common tree across the UK, Smudge and I come across it very often on our walks; from our local walk to the pond in the estate, to finding elder peaking through the hedges lining farms and fields, elder is everywhere on our walks. This means that through seeing it often it becomes easy to recognise amongst the jumble of trees and bushes, especially when in flower. Here are some key identification points that I use when looking for elder:
Elder Sambucus nigra
Family Caprifoliaceae (the honeysuckle family)
Distribution: Widespread across the UK. Occurs in woods, scrub, hedgerows and more derelict, waste land.
Tree description: Deciduous tree which means that it looses its leaves over the winter and regrows them in the summer. It is often more shrub like then typical trunk and canopy tree shape. Stems can often sprout from the base, giving it that shrub look. Often depicted by twisted growth and arching of branches. Bark is grey/brown colouring with deep furrows and a cork-like texture.
Leaves: The leaves are opposite each other along the petiole (pinnatley compound leaves) with an odd
number due to the terminal leaf not having a pair. The average number of leaves per petiole is 5 or 7. The leaves themselves range from 12cm to 30cm in length and are oval, elliptical, pointed leaves with sharp toothed edges. The secondary veins off the primary are paired oppositely therefore making the venation of the leaves is pinnate.
Flowers: Small creamy, off-white fragrant flowers. Lots of
flowers bunched together in approximately 25cm wide, flat heads. Trees flower in summer.
Fruits: Berries come through in late summer, about mid- August to mid-September depending on when the trees flowered. Small, black, glossy berries that you can eat. They start out as green when unripe and turn black when ripe.
I hope this helps anyone looking to identify elder. Many of my notes came from the Pocket Nature Wildlife of Britain, published by Dorling Kindersley in 2015. If you feel I have left anything important out or got a fact wrong, please leave comments below.