I immediately thought this was an interesting berry to study because of its name; but I will add that other than the name similarity, that is all we have in common; and no, it wasn’t named for one of my husbands’ distant relatives. Actually, the Elderberry gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon word “aeld” Elderberry has a background in various cultural superstitions as well as being folk remedy for centuries in meaning “fire.” Within young elder branches is a hollow tube or pipe, and these were used to blow on a fire, thus encouraging the flames.
The Russians believed that elderberry trees warded off evil spirits and by planting one would be good luck. Sicilians thought that the wood branches of the elderberry tree would kill snakes as well as drive thieves away.
The Egyptians were who first to discover that applying Elderberry flowers to the skin to improve complexion and aid in healing burns. Many of the Native American Indian tribes made tea from elderberries because of its effectiveness in preventing colds and relieving toothaches.
Elderberries have great antioxidant qualities, are an aid in improving vision, boosting the immune system, and improving heart health. They contain carotenoids, flavonoids, Vitamin A and B and high amounts of Vitamin C, as well as numerous other amino acids. The plant is a deciduous shrub growing around nine feet tall bearing white flowers in the summer and in the fall develops dark purple to black colored fruit – berries in drooping clusters. They are native east of the Rocky Mountains in North America, in the south through eastern Mexico, into Central America and Panama.
The berries and flowers are edible, but other parts of the plant are poisonous. Some flutes are made from the branches, but any whistles or other toys made from elderberry wood should be discouraged for children because of the possibility of cyanide poisoning which can be contained in the branches, seeds, and roots; however, the ripe, cooked berries, even pulp and skin, of the elderberry are edible and safe to consume.
In more recent pop culture, references to “elderberries” have been noted in the movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and in Arsenic and Old Lace, as well as in Elton John’s song Elderberry Wine.