The black elder has many interests, and not just as a species beneficial to biodiversity…
It has its place in a garden!
The black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a shrub or tree (in rich soil it can grow up to 7 meters high…), belonging to the family Adoxaceae.
Common throughout France (although rarer around the Mediterranean) and in many parts of the world, it is often found growing wild in wild hedgerows or forest edges.
It appreciates good sunshine and adapts to all soil types.
It is also a tree that can withstand very severe frosts (down to -25°C).
It can be planted alone or in a hedge.
In a garden forest it is a species of choice.
In late spring (late May – June), the profuse white (or pink for certain cultivars) and fragrant flowers, in the form of corymbs, are of the most beautiful effect.
But the black elder is not only decorative:
- it will attract many pollinators and other insects
- birds appreciate its berries (raw, they are poisonous to humans, but not to birds) and will bring a little more animal diversity to your garden
- its leaves, as well as its branches, can be used to fertilize the soil of your garden
- the flowers and fruits (cooked berries) are edible
- the wood has various uses in the garden and elsewhere…
But before we explain this in detail, now let’s see how to get elderberry plants for free.
If you find a black elderberry in the wild, it is very easy to get a seedling for your garden.
You can proceed by sowing berries or by cuttings:
It couldn’t be simpler.
Harvest ripe berries at the end of summer.
Place them in a pot filled with soil (3 to 4 cm buried). Leave this pot outside… and wait… it should germinate.
Even easier? Place the berries in your garden, directly on the ground. Cover with a little soil (but it’s not even required) and let nature do its work…
Black elderberry can also be easily propagated by cuttings:
When and how to plant a black elderberry?
As with all trees, fall is the best time to plant an elderberry (from a cutting or seedling, or from a nursery).
This way the tree benefits from the rain and has plenty of time to recover well before the summer heat.
Winter, outside the frost period, is also a good period.
Planting in the spring is still possible, but then you will probably have to provide regular water… and the further you get into the season, the less recovery is assured.
Preferably a few weeks before planting, but you can also do it just before planting, start by digging a planting hole with a diameter of at least twice as big (3 times is even better, because then the roots can spread more easily ) around the root ball supporting the shrub and with a depth slightly greater than that of the root ball.
Place the soil extracted from the surface on one side and the soil extracted in the depth on the other.
Crumble the extracted soil. Remove large rocks (say bigger than an orange – small rocks are useful for air circulation in the ground, as well as shelter for wildlife growing there).
Mix well-ripened compost, or an organic amendment (such as composted manure and seaweed), into the topsoil.
Loosen the bottom of the hole with a shovel to ensure good drainage.
If the roots are entangled in the root ball, lightly scrape the edges of the root ball to loosen them (but avoid breaking the root ball completely).
Put a shovel full of perfectly mature compost in the bottom of the hole (I expect certain reactions: “organic matter shouldn’t be buried!”… We’re okay if they don’t decay; but mature compost does, and the roots will find readily absorbable food within reach, which will facilitate the recovery of the tree).
Place the root ball on the bottom of the hole, making sure the top of the root ball is level with the ground (the collar should not be dug in or too high). To do this, remove or add a little soil to the bottom of the hole.
Once the elderberry is in place, put the soil back deep into the hole first.
Top up with the mixture of topsoil and compost (to which you can add a handful of horn powder).
Grab with feet or hands around the base of the torso.
The elderberry is a tree that grows well in most situations.
Also, aside from possibly a few waterings to ensure recovery when the weather is dry, it requires no particular maintenance.
However, you can mulch the base in the spring.
Some prune it to shape it to suit them…
Well, in my opinion nature is a better artist than us…
And why put unnecessary pressure on it? Yes… maybe for the purpose of using the branches from the pruning to make BRF (see below).
In the garden
Thanks in particular to the exuberant bloom, the elder attracts many pollinating insects, but not only.
Indeed, all kinds of insects feed on its various organs: flowers, berries, stems, hollow wood…
The larvae of some (ladybirds, bees, hoverflies, etc.) can even spend the winter in the shelter, in the hollow wood. You can also clear small sections of the stem to build “insect hotels” of your own (wild bees would particularly appreciate this habitat).
Likewise, birds (especially garden warblers, thrushes, blackbirds, robins, etc.) like to nest there and also find plenty of food (insects, larvae, berries, etc.). They will also spread seeds and thus participate in reforestation!
The elderberry grows quickly and will integrate effectively into a windbreak hedge.
Do you have a chicken coop? Plant an elderberry there. Not only will the hens be able to enjoy the shade, but they will also find plenty of food there.
Elderberry will therefore actively contribute to the promotion of biodiversity, and thus to the balance in your garden.
But the benefits don’t stop there…
As a natural fertilizer
You can macerate the leaves:
In addition, the black elder will produce many new branches each spring.
So it is quite possible to take the opportunity to make RCW the following autumn (with the young branches of the year).
Also note that elderberry leaves have a balanced carbon ratio (see the compost article). As a result, they are perfect for adding to compost (which would speed up decomposition) or simply as autumn mulch…
As a natural repellent
This same elderberry maceration, diluted 10 times, can be used as a spray to repel fleas, aphids and various caterpillars.
Poured undiluted into galleries, it also repels moles, voles, mole rats (voles), as 2 readers of the blog testified to me (I don’t know if they actually used a 3 day maceration or an insecticidal fertilizer… Indeed , by macerating for about ten days, we get an insecticide… But it is therefore a deadly product, which I do not recommend to use, because it is non-selective and a source of new imbalances).
“Since I poured elderberry manure in the corridors (sometimes you have to scrape well before you get to the hole), the mole rats have left. Yes, it works! I don’t even bother filtering it, everything goes through sap (beueerk) and rotten leaves! (about 1 kg of leaves for 10 l of water, it’s ready when it stinks, hehe)”
“One day I saw these galleries undermining the garden and nothing helped. Except one day I read an article on the internet advising sambucus nigra fertilizer. It is indeed wonderful. When I poured it pure into a gallery of a large breeding tank, I was surprised to see the rat eject itself in the minute that followed. They come back of course, but every time I use this slurry and that’s it for the mole rats ”.
Well, I admit I don’t really see the interest in the mole rats as they are systematically coming back… so they have time to do damage to the crops. In fact, would it probably be more effective to simply place elderberry branches or berries in the galleries? To test…
Use of elder wood
The wood can be used to make tool handles (this wood is soft to the touch, does not heat up with friction and thus avoids blisters…).
Branches older than 3 years are perfect as sticks.
Due to a particularly soft heart and therefore easy to empty, elderberry wood was traditionally used to make flutes (hence the name, sambucus actually comes from greek sambuké meaning “flute”). This property also opens the door to many other uses: natural water pipes (if you have a sloping site, why not imagine an irrigation system with hollow elderberry wood?), blowpipes, boxes… Give free rein to your desires!
In the kitchen
The flowers are traditionally harvested to make elderberry fritters.
Surprise your friends with elderflower syrup… or even elderflower wine!
Black elderberries* are edible when cooked (however, they are slightly poisonous raw).
They are harvested at the end of summer, when they are perfectly ripe.
You can make jam or jelly, syrup and even wine…
* be careful not to confuse it with the elderberry, which is inedible fruit.
Black elderberry is rich in vitamins A, B and C, as well as tannins, iron, carotenoids and even amino acids.
Elderberry also contains significant amounts of polyphenols and is a powerful antioxidant.
It is also known for its effectiveness in treating inflammation of the respiratory tract (to be honest…), colds and more generally the symptoms of the flu.
And that’s not all…
But I’m not going to venture further into a field that, even though it interests me immensely, is not mine.
Here you will learn a lot more about the benefits of, for example, black elderberry.
Let’s end with an old saying that sums it up well: “Whoever grows an elder, receives a thousand gifts”.
To you (in the comments below)!