Herb: Box Elder

Latin name: Acer negundo

Family: Aceraceae (Maple Family)

Medicinal use of Box Elder:

A tea made from the inner bark is used as an emetic.

Description of the plant:


21 m
(69 feet)

to May

Habitat of the herb:

Found in a variety of soil types, growing best in lowland sites along rivers, streams, ponds or seasonally flooded flats.

Edible parts of Box Elder:

The sap contains a reasonable quantity of sugar and can be used as a refreshing drink or be concentrated into a syrup. The syrup is used as a sweetener on many foods. The sugar content is inferior to A. saccharum according to one report whilst another says that it is highly valued as a producer of sweet sap. The sugar from the sap of this tree is said to be whiter than that from other maples. To obtain the sap, bore a hole on the sunny side of the trunk into the sapwood about 1 metre above the ground at anytime from about January 1st until the leaves appear. The flow is best on a warm day after a frost. The best sap production comes from cold-winter areas with continental climates. Inner bark - raw or cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickener in soups etc or be added to cereal flours when making bread, cakes etc. The inner bark can also be boiled until the sugar crystallizes out of it. Self-sown seedlings, gathered in early spring, are eaten fresh or dried for later use. Seeds - cooked. The wings are removed and the seeds boiled then eaten hot. The seed is up to 12mm long and is produced in small clusters.

Other uses of the herb:

The leaves are packed around apples, rootcrops etc to help preserve them. A fairly wind-tolerant tree, it can be used in mixed plantings as a part of shelterbelt plantings. Wood - soft, weak, light, close grained. It weighs 27lb per cubic foot. Of little commercial value, it is used for boxes, cheap furniture, pulp, fuel etc. Large trunk burls or knots have been used to make drums.

Propagation of Box Elder:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame, it usually germinates in the following spring. Pre-soak stored seed for 24 hours and then stratify for 2 - 4 months at 1 - 8C. It can be slow to germinate. The seed can be harvested "green" (when it has fully developed but before it has dried and produced any germination inhibitors) and sown immediately. It should germinate in late winter. If the seed is harvested too soon it will produce very weak plants or no plants at all. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on until they are 20cm or more tall before planting them out in their permanent positions. Layering, which takes about 12 months, is successful with most species in this genus. Cuttings of young shoots in June or July. The cuttings should have 2 - 3 pairs of leaves, plus one pair of buds at the base. Remove a very thin slice of bark at the base of the cutting, rooting is improved if a rooting hormone is used. The rooted cuttings must show new growth during the summer before being potted up otherwise they are unlikely to survive the winter. The cuttings of this species usually root easily. Budding onto A. negundo in early summer usually works well. The bud should develop a small shoot in the summer otherwise it is unlikely to survive the winter.

Cultivation of the herb:

Found in a variety of soil types, growing best in lowland sites along rivers, streams, ponds or seasonally flooded flats.

Known hazards of Acer negundo:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.