UnknownAmerican Elder – A Cheerful Landscape Addition

Every single part of the American Elder shrub is useful: flowers, berries, leaves, bark, and roots.

American Elder, also known as common elder, is a large, deciduous shrub that grows to 12 feet at maturity. Presenting deep green foliage complimented by clusters of creamy ivory white, umbel-like flowers in June and July, American Elder is a welcome addition to the home landscape. The flower clusters are up to ten inches across and emit a sweet, delightful fragrance. When the deep purple berries appear, birds gravitate to the garden.

Most effective planted in groupings, American Elder can be used to disguise an unsightly landscape element such as a shed or utility post. Fast growing elder is useful for screening off a pet area or dog run or striking when planted alongside a fence, foundation or wall.

American Elder is especially hardy, not dependent on soil conditions. The sturdy shrub does, however, do best in nutrient rich, well-drained soil in a sunny location. While elder does not like to have standing water around it’s roots, it flourishes with plenty of water, requiring about one inch a week during the warm summer months.

American Elder can be propagated from cuttings of bare shoots pruned in late autumn. To encourage dense, deep green leaves and to achieve a desired shape, elder should be pruned in early spring before new growth begins and again late in the fall.

A Very Useful Plant

For centuries, American Indians have used elder in a diverse array of ways. The sweet and succulent berries are prized for their tart and tangy flavor for jellies, jams, pies, and wine. Elderflower fritters, made from either fresh or dried elder flowers, are a delightful treat. Extracts, teas and tinctures crafted from elder have a wide range of medicinal purpose including treating chronic coughs, lung congestion, asthma, and bronchitis. A brew of elder leaves seeped in boiling water and then strained is useful in treating a host of skin diseases and is useful in relieving the itch of insect bites and other skin irritations. The same brew, placed in a spray bottle, is an effective bug repellent and will keep caterpillars from munching on plants on which it is sprayed.

In traditional American Indian medicinal practices, elder bark was simmered water and then applied as a poultice to relieve inflammation and the pain of muscle and bone injuries. A tea made from either fresh or dried flowers is a mild stimulant.

Known as “the tree of music”, Native Americans crafted flutes from the woody stems of the elder tree. Branches cut for musical instruments were dried with the leaves attached. Strong and straight shoots of the elder tree were fashioned into arrows and lances. Young branches, flexible and durable were woven into baskets and fish traps. Crush or bruise the leaves and rub on skin to keep pesky mosquitos and flies away.

Guardian Of The Orchard

If you have fruit trees in your home landscape, plant a few elderberry trees around the perimeter of the orchard to lure the birds away from other fruit with their berries.

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