Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

A marvellous, versatile plant: easy to grow, atttractive, bountiful, and with a multitude of uses.




Culinary uses

From wikipedia


The flowers of Sambucus nigra are used to produce elderflower cordial. The French, Austrians and Central Europeans produce elderflower syrup, commonly made from an extract of elderflower blossoms, which is added to pancake (Palatschinken) mixes instead of blueberries. People throughout much of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe use a similar method to make a syrup which is diluted with water and used as a drink. Based on this syrup, Fanta markets a soft drink variety called "Shokata"[3] which is sold in 15 countries worldwide. In the United States, this French elderflower syrup is used to make elderflower marshmallows. St-Germain, a French liqueur, is made from elderflowers. Hallands Fläder, a Swedish akvavit, is flavoured with elderflowers.

Wines, cordials and marmalade have been produced from the berries or flowers. In Italy and Germany, the umbels of the elderberry are batter coated, fried and then served as a dessert or a sweet lunch with a sugar and cinnamon topping.




The plant:

Waterlogging tolerant, but not drought tolerant.

Will grow in poor soil.

A shrub or small tree, to around 3-4m.

Multi-stemmed and with a wide (up to 4m across), drooping habit.

Frost-tolerant and very hardy under most conditions.

Can be easily struck from cuttings - strike them in a vase of water or in damp soil.

Suckers readily.

Flowers in Spring, Berries in Late Summer/ Autumn. Deciduous or part Deciduous.


Garden uses:

Said to be a compost activator (apparently compost under an elderberry tree will do very well).

Bird and butterfly attracting.

Good companion plant for fruit trees.

Elderberry leaves are poisonous but can be used to make insecticides and fungicides.

Lovely, lightly fragrant (in a heady honey-smell cloud sort of way), nectariferous Spring flower display - wide white umbels.

Sprays of attractive blue black berries in late Summer and Autumn.

Brief Autumn colour and Winter deciduous.



Apparently witches and Elderberries go hand in hand.


I have a theory that witches were probably medicine women with a knowledge of herbs and good nutrition through gardening at the time of the witch hunts in the Dark and Middle Ages. Given the number of benefits conferred by Elders, it's not surprising that anyone with knowledge of medicine and gardening grew Elders - and hence the association between Elders and knowing your garden and medicine lore ;)  

Maybe way back when, natural medicine people (druid-ish types) were called elders because they were wise?


Note that amongst the signs for identifying witches were an unnaturally youthful appearance, unnaturally wrinkle-free skin - and the presence of an Elderberry in the garden!


I wouldn't be too worried that if you plant one a witch will come and live in it though.


Household uses:


Beverages - cordial, champagne, wine

Jelly and jam

Medicines - tincture, essence, extract, tea

Cosmetics - Eye wrinkle removal cream and blue rinse for hair


Elderflower has traditionally been used to treat hayfever, catarrh and sinusitis. It is considered to be a preventative for flu and a treatment for cancer.



Some Recipes

From Jackie French "A-Z of Useful Plants"


Elderberry jam - the berries are edible (if cooked) and can be used to make jam as with other berries (Scarlett's note: try one part berry to one part sugar, add pectin as desired, might be nice with some lemon zest and juice in there too - can use the pips for pectin).

Elderberry jelly: take a cup of eldberries. Stew until tender in a cup of water. Strain through a sieve. Add 1 cup of sugar and the juice of two lemons. Simmer until a drop sets in a saucer of cold water. Bottle and seal.

Elderberry blue rinse: Take a cup of elderberries, add a pinch of salt and of alum (these add brightness but aren't absolutely necessary), and cover with boiling water. Leave til cool and use as a final rinse. If the colour is not deep enough, make a more concentrated solution and leave in for ten minutes before rinsing off.

Elder flowers: eat them raw in salads, fry them in fritters, add them to peach, apple or apricot jam for an elusive flavour. Scatter elder flowers on cold drinks.

Elderberry tea: Made from fresh or dried flowers. Used to be a remedy for flu.

Elderflower champagne: Pick 6 elder flower heads, shake out any beetles. Place them in a large, clean bucket. Add two sliced lemons, 1 kg white sugar, 2 tbsp white vinegar and 4.5 litres of water. Mix well. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave for 24 hours. Strain and pour into bottles. Seal. Leave for 2 months to brew, but check every two days to release any excess gas that might cause the bottles to burst. (Scarlett's note: apparently Grolsch beer bottles are very good for this)




Note that there are several species of Elderberry - but the common one is the one used for cooking etc - i.e. the Black Elderberry.


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 I'm going to make some elderflower cordial. I've been buying it to see if I like it - and I do!


Picking elderflowers

The secret to making a well-flavoured cordial is to pick flowers on a sunny day before it gets too hot, then use as soon as possible. Choose the freshest-looking heads, frothy with creamy-white flowers.


The colour is because I used raw sugar (I prefer it to white where I can get away with it). The good news is it tastes just the same as the bought one, only fresher and nicer, and slightly more lemony. I added a bit of tartaric acid to the recipe so it will hopefully keep in the cupboard.

This is about as big as it gets - maybe a metre more - see it's growing up out of the top of this (massive, ancient) clump of Ginger Lily in our front yard (Victoria - but it grows just fine in Brisbane too).


Thanks for the post Scarlett.  Some friends of mine down the road have one so now I might ask for a cutting.  Will have to try the cordial first to see if I like it though. 


How badly (or well!) does it sucker?  I've just discovered my raspberry suckers so two suckering plants might be a bit much. : )

A lot depends on the size of your garden. I only had a 24 perch block when I grew mine and it suckered with gay abandon. It ended up at the (then) embryo Annerley Community Garden and it drove them nuts too. Suspect it got composted. I've yet to see how they fruit, but my 3 Raspberries are in 200L wicking bins and they won't be escaping anywhere.


How to make your own Elderflower Essence

That's the brand of Elderflower cordial that I buy occassionally and it is lovely. I try to avoid cordial due to the sugar content but the odd bottle is a treat.

Not drought tolerant isn't a good thing here at the moment as we haven't had decent rain in ages and the garden is starting to stress.

It's a northern European plant so it must be marginal at best here in Briz.

yes, i didn't see heaps of it up there (unlike down south, where it's all over the place in farmland), but the ones i did see seemed large and vigorous - perhaps it's touchier, but fine if it establishes? not sure.

some things have a very wide range.

Great post Scarlett, I only wish I'd found it earlier. I wasn't aware there were so many uses. I have a bunch of elderberry trees growing by my creek that I have only recently identified, although I'm not sure of the species - any ideas on how you would go about this? It's leaves look a tad different to yours. I made Elderflower champagne a few weeks ago with this newly dicovered tree I have and it tasted great. I tried making elderberry wine too but it took forever to remove the berries without any stem fragments falling in, and as you need soo many berries and the stems are so fine it seemed like it would take forever so I gave up, just didn't have enough time, will hopefully try again someday.


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