European elder

European elder

Sambucus nigra

Common Name:

European elder

Scientific Name:

Sambucus nigra

Alternative common names:

Black elder, European black elderberry.


The European elder is a deciduous shrub or small tree reaching 6m tall. Tiny, white, scented flowers appear in a flat-topped cluster in late spring to summer.  The flowers are hermaphroditic (have both male and female parts).

Additional Information

Where does this species come from?


What is its invasive status in South Africa?

NEMBA Category 1b.

Where in South Africa is it a problem?


How does it spread?

Birds are the main dispersal agent of seeds, either by regurgitating them or defecating after ingesting the fruit.

Why is it a problem?

The leaves are poisonous and the flowers and fruits contain a mildly poisonous alkaloid that is destroyed by cooking.

What does it look like?

Leaves: Compound pinnate leaves, dark green in colour. Each leaf is 5-30cm long and the leaflets have serrated margins.

Flowers: The flowers are small, white and 5-6mm in diameter, appearing in a flat-topped cluster in late spring to summer. They are hermaphroditic (have both male and female parts).

Fruit/seeds: The fruit is a glossy, dark purple to black berry, 3-5 mm diameter, produced in drooping clusters in late autumn.

Does the plant have any uses?

It is widely cultivated for its fruits and as a medicinal plant. The dark purple berries can be eaten when fully ripe and used to make jam, jelly and chutney. The leaves, flowers, fruits and root extracts are used to treat bronchitis, coughs, upper respiratory infections and fever.

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