growing and care

Some say here in Ireland, and in other countries too, that summer is not here until the Elder is in flower, and summer ends when the Elder berries are ripe.

Said to be named after the Saxon word Æld, meaning "fire", which is peculiar as it is just about the worst fuel to use on a fire, plus there is a lot of superstition preventing use on fire. Some people did hollow out Elder branches to blow through them to get fires going?

Is Elder a tree or shrub? It seems not quite large enough to be a tree, but Elder is too large to be a bush. Its heartwood is extremely hard, yet its branches are very weak.

Elder grows to between 3 to 6 m, 10 to 20 feet and grows to its maximum height very quickly, just a few years, then has a potential lifespan of 80 to 100 years.

preferred soil conditions?

Thrives in a wide range of habitats including waste ground, roadsides, woods, and railway banks, but Elder does need a bit of fertility around. Elder is not good on totally poor soils. For some reason, Elder is very abundant where there are rabbits and rabbit warrens.

Elder makes a fine hedging plant due to being a fast grower and birds love nesting in it. However, some hedge cutters refuse to trim Elder due to "fear of doing so would curse bad luck".

preferred light, shade and water conditions?

Likes good sun to partial shade on ground with moist, well-drained soil. Does not like clay and does not like dry sandy soil.


Buds start to form end of Nevember or early December then grow quickly during January. Leaves break open in early March but during a mild winter can open through February and even through late January. Leaves then fall late, mid to end of November.


It's creamy white flowers are perhaps the best smelling in the woods, so it seems strange that Elder leaves give off a pungent smell similar to mice nests and droppings. Flowering time is through late May, June and July.

Flowers are pollinated by small flies more than by bees and butterflies.


Elder gives of side shoots and suckers from the ground to form colonies. These can be pulled to establish more plants.

fruit and seeds

Deep purple, almost black, berries ripen through August and September, and are very attractive to birds.

Elder leaves have an unpleasant odour that is said to be offensive to most insects, so gardeners boil up decoctions of the young leaves to sprinkle over delicate plants, especially buds, to keep off the attacks of aphids and even caterpillars.

There is also a blight prevention recipe. Boil young shoots Elder tree, then mix in copper sulphate, iron sulphate, nicotine, castille soap, and slaked lime.

Scattering the Elder leaves keep mice away from grain stores and drive moles away.

for the healing and nourishment qualities of Elder, please click here