Herb: Dwarf Elder

Latin name: Sambucus ebulus

Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)

Medicinal use of Dwarf Elder:

The leaves are antiphlogistic, cholagogue, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant and laxative. The fruit is also sometimes used, but it is less active than the leaves. The herb is commonly used in the treatment of liver and kidney complaints. When bruised and laid on boils and scalds, they have a healing effect. They can be made into a poultice for treating swellings and contusions. The leaves are harvested in the summer and can be dried for later use. The root is diaphoretic, mildly diuretic and a drastic purgative. Dried, then powdered and made into a tea, it is considered to be one of the best remedies for dropsy. It should only be used with expert supervision because it can cause nausea and vertigo. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh berries or the bark. It is used in the treatment of dropsy.

Description of the plant:


120 cm
(4 feet)

July to


Habitat of the herb:

Waste ground, woods, hedgerows and scrub. especially on calcareous soils.

Edible parts of Dwarf Elder:

Fruit - cooked. It is used as a flavouring in soups etc. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter and is borne in large clusters. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. Leaves are used as a tea substitute. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.

Other uses of the herb:

A blue dye and an ink are obtained from the fruit. The root juice is used to dye hair black. The leaves are said to repel mice and moles. Plants make a dense ground cover when spaced about 1 metre apart each way. They are best used in large areas, roadsides etc. Our experience to date (1995) is that the plants spread vigorously but do not form a dense cover and so do not exclude other plants.

Propagation of Dwarf Elder:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame, when it should germinate in early spring. Stored seed can be sown in the spring in a cold frame but will probably germinate better if it is given 2 months warm followed by 2 months cold stratification first. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. If good growth is made, the young plants can be placed in their permanent positions during the early summer. Otherwise, either put them in a sheltered nursery bed, or keep them in their pots in a sheltered position and plant them out in spring of the following year. Division of suckers in spring or autumn. Very easy.

Cultivation of the herb:

Waste ground, woods, hedgerows and scrub. especially on calcareous soils.

Known hazards of Sambucus ebulus:

Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, the leaves and stems of some, if not all, members of this genus are poisonous. The fruit of this species has been known to cause stomach upsets to some people. Any toxin the fruit might contain is liable to be of very low toxicity and is destroyed when the fruit is cooked.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.