Common elderberry

Elderberries are quite edible. The blue or purple ELDERBERRY
berries are gathered and made into elderberry wine, jam, syrup, and pies. The entire flower cluster can be Sambucus nigra L. ssp.
dipped in batter and fried while petals can be eaten raw or made into a fragrant and tasty tea. The flowers canadensis (L.) R. Bolli
add an aromatic flavor and lightness to pancakes or The elderberry is of well-known value to the Indians Contributed by: USDA NRCS National Plant Data of North America and the many purposes it serves Center & the Biota of North America Program (Barrow 1967). Elderberry is highly prized by both Spaniards and Cahuillas. Throughout the months of July and August the small clusters of berries are gathered in large quantities. These clusters are dried carefully on the drying floor and preserved in considerable amounts. When wanted, they are cooked into a rich sauce that needs no sweetening. A Cahuilla family during this season of the year will subsist largely on these messes of "sauco." Frequently, the elderberry was so greatly enjoyed that families would live for weeks on little else. Many were dried for use in the winter, and were either re- Botany Dept., NMNH, Smithsonian Institution cooked or eaten raw. Elderberries are still highly prized for food by modern Indian people. Alternate Names
Elderberry twigs and fruit are employed in creating Arizona elderberry, American elder, sweet elder, wild dyes for basketry. These stems are dyed a very deep elder, flor sauco, tree of music, Danewort, Walewort, black by soaking them for a week or so in a wash New Mexican elderberry, velvet-leaf elder, hairy blue made from the berry stems of the elderberry elderberry, and dwarf elder. Taxonomically, there (Barrows 1967). The Cahuilla split basketry have been recent changes in this elderberry species. materials from the aromatic sumac (Rhus trilobata). It was previously divided into Sambucus coriacea, Sambucus orbiculata, Sambucus velutina, and Elderberry branches were used to make the shaft of Sambucus caerulea (Munz 1968). This species is arrows. Flutes and whistles were constructed by known in some floras as Sambucus mexicana. boring holes into stems hollowed out with hot sticks. Clapper sticks were made by splitting the stem and clapping the two halves against each other. Clapper Ethnobotanic: Only the blue or purple berries of sticks were used ceremonially in the round-house to elderberry are edible. Edible berries and flower are accompany singing and dancing. The pith of the used for medicine, dyes for basketry, arrow shafts, stems was used as tinder, and the stem itself was flute, whistles, clapper sticks, and folk medicine. employed as a twirling stick for starting the fire. The active alkaloids in elderberry plants are Hollowed-out elderberry stems can be made into hydrocyanic acid and sambucine. Both alkaloids will cause nausea so care should be observed with this plant. Elderberries are high in Vitamin C. The red In the middle ages elderberry was considered a Holy berries of other species are toxic and should not be Tree, capable of restoring good health, keeping good The wood is hard and has been used for combs, Fruits of elderberry are gathered from the wild for spindles, and pegs, and the hollow stems have been wine, jellies, candy, pies, and sauces. The plants are commercially cultivated for fruit production in
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Oregon. Sambucus canadensis and S. nigra have create overhanging banks, providing habitat for fish long been used in the same way, and cultivars of both have been developed. All parts of the elderberry plant are considered to be a valuable healing plant in Game birds, squirrels and other rodents, and several many folk medicine traditions (Hutchens 1991, kinds of browsers also feed on the fruit or foliage of Walker et al. 1993; Barrett et al. 1933; Clarke 1977). elderberry. Bears love to eat the elderberry fruits Elderberry flowers contain flavenoids and rutin, while deer, elk, and moose browse on the stems and which are known to improve immune function, foliage. The elderberries are important sources of particularly in combination with vitamin “C.” The summer food for many kinds of songbirds. For flowers also contain tannins, which account for its example, the western bluebird, indigo bunting, traditional use to reduce bleeding, diarrhea, and common house finch, red-shafted flicker, ash- throated flycatcher, black-headed grosbeak, scrub jay, Stellar jay, ruby-crowned kinglet, mockingbird, The flowers are the mildest part of the plant and red-breasted nuthatch, Bullock’s oriole, hooded prepared as a tea, are used to break dry fevers and oriole, song sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, stimulate perspiration, aid headache, indigestion, western tanager, California thrasher, russet-backed twitching eyes, dropsy, rheumatism, appendix thrush, brown towhee, Audubon warbler, cedar inflammation, bladder or kidney infections, colds, waxwing, Lewis and Nuttall's woodpecker, wren-tit, influenza, consumption (bleeding in lungs), and is grouse, pheasant, and pigeons all eat elderberries helpful to newborn babies (Hutchens 1991). Used as a wash, the flowers or leaves are good for wounds, sprains, and bruises, as well as for sores on domestic The valley elderberry longhorn beetle (VELB) animals. The leaves, which are stronger, have a (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) was listed as slightly laxative property. Applied externally, leaves, threatened under The Endangered Species Act on flowers, bark and twigs are excellent as a poultice, August 8, 1980. The elderberry beetle is endemic to mixed equally with chamomile, for soreness, moist valley oak riparian woodlands along the inflammations, joint stiffness, and to reduce the margins of rivers and streams in the lower swelling of bee stings. The flowers and berries, Sacramento and upper San Joaquin Valley of employed as a diuretic, can aid arthritis and California where elderberry grows. The primary rheumatism. Steeped in water, the flowers are used threat to the VELB is loss of habitat, insecticide and externally to aid in complexion beauty, tone and herbicide use, and lack of elderberry shrubs/trees as a soften the skin, and lighten freckles or spots. The food plant for the beetle. The mitigation for VELB berry juice made into salve aids burns and scalds. habitat loss, considered a taking under The The juice taken internally will act as a purgative. Endangered Species Act, is quite stringent (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mitigation Guidelines). Livestock: Elderberry is a useful range plant for domestic livestock, but is not equally palatable In general, longhorn beetles are characterized by during all seasons. It is usually receives limited somewhat elongate and cylindrical bodies with long browsing in the spring and to a much greater extent antennae, often in excess of 2/3 of the body length. in the late summer and fall. The leaves are eagerly Male VELB have a metallic-green pattern of 4 devoured after the first heavy frost in the fall. oblong maculations, surrounded by a bright red- Because many branches are beyond the reach of the orange border. The body length is about 13-21 mm, animals, utilization is less destructive. Browse and antennae are about a long as the body. Females rating: Good for goats; good to fair for sheep; good to are more robust, with body length about 18-25 mm, poor for deer; fair for cattle; and fair to poor for Elderberry is planted because of its forage and cover Wildlife: Structurally complex riparian vegetation value, productivity, adaptability, and ease of communities provide many different habitats and establishment. It is a useful ground cover for support a diverse array of animal species. Different stabilizing streambanks and eroding sites. It provides groups of animals occupy or use the different layers food, cover, perching, and nesting sites for many of vegetation, and this multi-story arrangement is species of birds and food and cover for various other often present nowhere else in the arid landscapes. wildlife, and it is important as browse for mule deer Canopies of plants growing on stream banks provide and elk. In the spring the leaves may be strongly shade, cooling stream water, while roots stabilize and scented and less palatable, but they sweeten and become more palatable by fall. Adaptation
Elderberry grows on moist, well-drained sunny sites, Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State usually occurring in early seral communities or in Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s openings in moist forest habitats (slopes, canyons, current status, such as, wetland indicator values. cliff bases, streamsides, streambanks) and moist areas Western riparian ecosystems have been greatly within drier, more open habitats (sagebrush, altered by human activity. Riparian forests have been mountain brush, pinyon-juniper, ponderosa pine, reduced to fragmented, discontinuous patches often along fence rows and roads); at elevations of 3- because of human intervention. For example, 3000 meters. Elderberry is a dominant understory estimates are that 70 - 90 percent of the natural species in riparian woodlands. It can persist past riparian ecosystems in the U.S. have been lost to seral stages as scattered individuals in open forests, human activities. Regional losses in these woodlands, chaparral, or riparian zones. This species ecosystems have been estimated to exceed 98% in the flowers from May to September and fruits from July Sacramento Valley in California. Many factors have to October. Common elderberry is more common on contributed to these resource losses, including the warmer sites than red elderberry (Sambucus following: natural resource use; urbanization; racemosa), although they overlap in habitat alteration of stream flows through dam construction and ground-water withdrawal; modification of biotic conditions through grazing, agriculture, introduction In California, common riparian woodland associates of non-native species; and alteration within are valley oak (Quercus lobata), interior live oak (Quercus wislizenii), California walnut (Juglans hindsii), and California sycamore (Platanus Description
racemosa). Box elder (Acer negundo), Oregon ash General: Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). (Fraxinus latifolia), alder (Alnus rhombifolia), and Native shrubs growing 2-4(-8) m tall, less commonly willow (Salix gooddingii, Salix exigua, Salix small single-stemmed trees, young twigs soft and lasiandra, and Salix laevigata) are particularly pithy but the wood hard; bark thin, grayish to dark prevalent in the subcanopy. Understory species are brown, irregularly furrowed and ridged. The mostly shrubs, including elderberry (Sambucus pinnately compound leaves are deciduous, opposite, mexicana), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), about 15-35 cm long, odd-pinnate with (3-)5-9 blackberry (Rubus spp.), and California rose (Rosa serrate leaflets 2-15 cm long, often with a long stalk, californica). Lianas, such as poison oak often asymmetrical at the base. Elderberry leaves, (Toxicodendron diversiloba) and California grape especially on seedlings or shrub-sized plants (without (Vitis californica) are a dominant feature. fruits or flowers) resemble California walnut Herbaceous vegetation is 1% cover except in (Juglans hindsii) and Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia). The inflorescence is flat-topped, 4-20(-30) cm across, broader than high; flowers bisexual, the corollas Establishment
small, white to cream, rotate, 5-lobed, with a Elderberry produces a good seed crop almost every pleasant, yet slightly rancid odor. Fruit is berry-like, year. The seeds are dispersed by birds and other 5-6 mm wide, with 3-5 nutlets, blue- to purple-black animals that eat the fruit. The seeds have a hard seed at maturity with a white-waxy bloom and appearing coat and embryo dormancy and may remain viable powder blue. The common name “elder” is from the for up to 16 years in storage. Without pretreatment, Anglo-Saxon “ellen,” meaning fire-kindler, the dry, seed germination may be delayed from 2 to 5 years after planting. Plants may flower and fruit after only 2-3 years and can reach full size in 3-4 years. They Distribution: Common elderberry is common along are said to be “short-lived.” Vegetative reproduction stream banks, river banks, and open places in riparian is limited to coppicing if the stems are killed or areas lower than < 3000 m. From west Texas north to Montana, western Alberta, and southern British Columbia, and all other western states, south into northwest Mexico. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the Elderberry fruits are collected when ripe and spread To separate seeds from fruits either 1) run fruit through a macerator with water and the pulp and empty seeds float; 2) crush, dry and use without separating fruits and seeds; and 3) for small • Cut tree back to 3 to 6 feet from the ground or to amounts of fruit they can be cleaned in a fruit 50 percent of its height (whichever is greater) by removing branches and stems above this height. Elderberry seed can be stored dry at 41 °F for The trunk and all stems greater than 1.5 inches in Elderberry seeds can be sown in the fall soon • If the presence of tunnels excavated by the beetle after collection, or stratified and sown in the larvae inside the elderberry stem and trunk are spring. In either case, germination is often not A seedling density of 35 plant per square foot is • Move plant by the root ball. Keep the root ball sought. Seeds are sown 1/4 inch deep in drills and covered with about 3/8 inch of sawdust • Place transplant in holes 3 to 4 feet deep. • Construct circular water retention basin from the In the greenhouse, seeds are warm stratified for excavated earth about 8-10 feet in diameter and two months in a mixture of peat, vermiculite, and 12 to 14 inches high. Plant the main trunk of an sand at 21° to 30°C; (70 to 85°F). Seeds are then elderberry in the center of each water basin. placed close to the soil surface in flats in the Plant other stems that have been rooted around greenhouse. There are usually several hundred • Saturate soil with water. Irrigate as necessary, Seedlings are then potted from the flats in deep especially through first growing season. After one season of growth, the seedlings are Management
field planted in the fall or spring when they are 6 In six riparian restoration projects carried out in to 8 months old. If planted in the fall irrigation California, competition from exotic weed species was may not be necessary in moist sites. In drier a key factor in mortality and site failure (Baird 1989). sites or with spring planting, irrigation will be On small sites, hand weeding around trees and shrubs is the most effective means of weed control. One way to avoid competition from weeds on larger sites is to remove the surface soil, although this has the Cuttings of elderberry tend to have lower disadvantage of removing nutrients, mycorrhizal survival success than establishment from seed. fungi, bacteria, and insect and invertebrate Use hardwood cuttings from previous seasons populations critical to a healthy habitat. A cover crop of native wildflowers was also used to control weeds, Take "heel cuttings" from older wood, so inner with wildflower seeds hand-broadcast over the site. On wetter, heavier soils this does not seem to provide Cuttings should be at least 10", and have at least two nodes. Cuttings are placed in 4" pots with perlite and peat. Plants are kept moist. There is considerable evidence that fertilization can Cuttings have a fragile root system, with high favor exotic weeds over native plants. Inoculation mortality occurring when transplanted. Care with mycorrhizal fungi enables seedlings of some should be taken to be very gentle with delicate species to better utilize limited supplies of both water and nutrients. Inoculation of transplanted shrubs may The cuttings, which do survive, seem to establish be accomplished through inclusion of large (1.2 m and grow faster. Plant biomass production, deep by 2.8 m wide) root balls with plants. Smaller, height, flowering and seed set is more rapid than more economical soil plugs scattered throughout the site serve the same purpose. The number of soil plugs needed to ensure the establishment of soil flora is directly related to the distance of the restoration • All elderberry plants with evidence of valley elderberry longhorn beetle use (i.e. emergence Given that elderberry provides habitat for the transplanted, as they provide habitat for a federally listed valley longhorn elderberry beetle, livestock grazing of elderberry is not recommended. Species Act. For further technical information, Livestock grazing can alter vegetative structure and call a representative of the U.S. Fish and composition of riparian habitat. Overgrazing by livestock and big game frequently changes plant species composition and growth form, density of Bolli, R. 1994. Revision of the genus Sambucus. stands, vigor, seed production of plants, and insect Burke, H.E. 1921. Biological notes on Desmocerus , Clear-cutting or seed tree cutting with high soil a genus of roundhead borers, the species of which disturbance sometimes favors the development of infests various elders. J. Econ. Ent. 14:450-452. elderberry in a seral community. It recovers well from heavy grazing in the Great Basin. For use in Clarke, C.B. 1977. Edible and useful plants of site stabilization or rehabilitation, seeds may be California. University of California Press. 280 pp. planted directly or seedlings and 1-2-year old stock may be transplanted. It also grows from transplanted Crane, M. F. 1989. Sambucus cerulea. IN: W.C. Fischer (compiler). The fire effects information system [Data base]. USDA, Forest Service, Elderberry usually is not present in the understory of Intermountain Research Station, Intermountain Fire closed-canopy forests, and when fire occurs in these, regeneration occurs from seed banks that may occur <> between 2-10 cm deep in the soil, the seeds deposited from off-site dispersal or from plants of an earlier Cronquist, A., A.H. Holmgren, N.H. Holmgren et al. community. Fire scarifies the hard seed coat of 1984. Intermountain flora: Vascular plants of the buried seeds and stimulates their germination, which Intermountain West, U.S.A. Vol. 4. Subclass usually occurs the first growing season after the fire. Asteridae, (except Asteraceae). The New York Subsequent burns may eliminate elderberry since it spreads slowly by seed. Fire kills above-ground parts but the root crown may sprout but a severe fire can Eriksson, T. & M.J. Donoghue 1997. Phylogenetic kill the root and stem buds from which sprouting relationships of Sambucus and Adoxa (Adoxoideae, Adoxaceae) based on nuclear ribosomal ITS sequences and preliminary morphological data. Syst. Cultivars, Improved and Selected Materials (and
area of origin)
These plant materials are somewhat available from Felter, H.W. & J.U. Lloyd 2000. Sambucus. IN commercial sources. Contact your local Natural King’s American Dispensatory. Web site. Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil < Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Finn, C. 1999. Temperate berry crops. Pp. 324–334. Service will be listed under the subheading IN: J. Janick (ed.), Perspectives on new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, Virginia. < References
Arnold, R.A. 1984. Interim report for contract C- 616 with the California Department of Fish and Hartmann, H.T., D.E. Kesler, & F.T. Davies, Jr. 1990. Plant propagation principles and practices. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. 647 pp. Baird, K. 1989. High quality restoration of riparian ecosystems. Restoration and Management Notes Hickman, J.C. (ed.) 1993. The Jepson manual. Higher plants of California. University of California Barrett, S.A. & E.W. Gifford 1933. Miwok material culture. Indian Life of the Yosemite Region. Hutchens, A.R. 1991. Indian herbalogy of North Yosemite Association, Yosemite National Park, America. Shambhala Books, Boston and London. pp Barrows, D.P. 1967. Ethno-botany of the Coahuilla Martin, A.C., H.S. Zim, and A.L. Nelson 1951. Indians. Malki Museum Press. Banning, California. American wildlife and plants: A guide to wildlife food habits. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, New who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA's 720-2600 (voice and TDD). Munz, P.A. 1968. A California flora. University of To file a complaint of discrimination write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call 202-720-5964 (voice or TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity Murphy, E.V.A. 1959. Indian uses of native plants. Mendocino County Historical Society. 81 pp. Powers, S. 1976. Tribes of California. University of
Roos-Collins, M. 1990. The flavors of home. A
guide to wild edible plants of the San Francisco Bay
. Heyday Books, Berkeley, California. 224 pp.
Sampson, A.S. & B.S. Jesperson 1981. California
range brushlands and browse plants
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Sciences Publications. University of California.
Berkeley, California. 162 pp.
Schopmeyer, C.S. 1974. Seeds of woody plants in the
United States
. Agriculture Handbook No. 450.
Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Washington, D.C. 883 pp.
Walker, P.L. & T. Hudson 1993. Chumash healing.
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Prepared By
Michelle Stevens
Formerly USDA, NRCS, National Plant Data Center
Guy Nesom
Formerly BONAP, North Carolina Botanical Garden,
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North
Species Coordinator
M. Kat Anderson
USDA, NRCS, National Plant Data Center, c/o Plant
Sciences Department, University of California,
Davis, California
Edited 03apr01 jsp; 03jun03 ahv; 060816 jsp For more information about this and other plants, please contact your local NRCS field office or Conservation District, and visit the PLANTS Web site Materials Program Web > The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities


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