Coming back from Chipping Norton recently I saw a man gathering bourtree blossom. Was he planning to use it for a spritzer or for a cordial? Probably neither; an array of casual workers gather in the flowers and sell them on to commercial organisations and their output will eventually make its way to supermarket shelves. By bourtree I refer of course to the short-lived shrub commonly known as elder, Sambucus nigra, valued for its blossom and, perhaps more traditionally, for the ripe fruit. Once a member of the Honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, genetic research has resulted in Sambucus being transferred, along with Viburnum and a handful of minor genera, into the hitherto tiny Adoxaceae family.
|A mature elder. Byfield. 17 June, 2017|
Medicinally the bark and the flowers have been 'successfully employed in epilepsy' (Potter's Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, 3rd Edition, 1923), and in more modern times it has appeared in products sold by The Body Shop, who used the flowers in eye-gel and eyelash cream (goodness knows why). The heartwood is extremely hard, so much so that it has been used in the making of mathematical instruments.
Elder. The individual flowers could hardly be more simple.
Daventry. 17 June, 2017
Elder once had a reputation as a 'flu remedy and modern research suggests that a constituent in elder berries deters the virus from invading our cells as well as boosting our immune system.
Richard Mabey, in his book Flora Britannica, described Elder as a 'mangy, short-lived, opportunist and foul-smelling shrub'. Perhaps it is now time for this much-maligned tree to be re-evaluated, for it is now regularly being seen in gardens in the form known as 'Black Lace'.
|Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace' in a Byfield garden. 17 June, 2017|
|The gall of Plagochela nigripes. The Croft, Daventry. 19 June, 2017|
* Although Sambucus nigra is found throughout Europe and across much of North America it is apparently absent from Israel and there may be more truth in the belief that Judas Iscariot hanged himself on Cercis siliquastrum - otherwise known as the Judas Tree.