Herb: Black Elder

Latin name: Sambucus melanocarpa

Synonyms: Sambucus racemosa pubens melanocarpa

Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)

Medicinal use of Black Elder:

The dried ripe berries have been eaten as a treatment for diarrhoea. A decoction of the roots has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery. A poultice of the boiled, mashed roots has been used as a treatment for caked breasts, cuts and wounds. A decoction of the flowers has been used in the treatment of tuberculosis, coughs and colds. It has also been given to children as a spring tonic. A poultice of the crushed leaves has been used to treat bruises and bleeding wounds.

Description of the plant:


4 m
(13 feet)

to July

Habitat of the herb:

Moist places in California, 1800 - 3600 metres, and northwards to Canada.

Edible parts of Black Elder:

Fruit - raw or cooked. Low in pectin, it is best mixed with crab-apples or other pectin-rich fruits if used in making jams, jellies etc. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter and is borne in large clusters. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. Flowers - raw or cooked.

Propagation of the herb:

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. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 7 - 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, 15 - 20cm with a heel, late autumn in a frame or a sheltered outdoor bed.

Cultivation of Black Elder:

Moist places in California, 1800 - 3600 metres, and northwards to Canada.

Known hazards of Sambucus melanocarpa:

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 many species (although no records have been seen for 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.