Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sambucus mexicana--Blue Elderberry--Caprifoliaceae

This is not the best time of year to view the elderberry trees, but this one in the California section of the UC Botanical Garden still has a few leaves, so you can see the leaves are pinnate with about 9 leaflets. This species has pale yellow flowers in late spring and dark berries in late summer. Bees love the flowers and birds love the fruit. Humans also use the flowers and fruit. The flowers are used to make tea, syrup or fritters. Ancient Egyptians used them to heal burns. The fruit is especially good in jam and wine. Early Indians used them to make beverages. In both the old and new world the wood was used to make a wind instrument like a flute. The word "Sambucus" comes from the name of the musical instrument, "sambuca."

In the 1600s, the British started used elderberries to make wine. They said it would cure colds and prolong life. Apparently there was some truth to this notion. The berries actually contain antioxidants, anti-inflamatories. They also support the immune system. Most interesting are the anti-virals. Antibiotics have been a part of the modern medical arsenal for some time, however, anti-virals been more difficult to develop and more recent. But they have been available all along in the form of elderberries. It has an enzyme that inhibits the flu and other viruses by removing spikes from the individual virus particles, thus making it more difficult for them to pierce cell walls. Amazing!

1 comment:

Jeffrey said...

I and various friends have found a syrup of the fruits of elderberry -- as in the popular "Sambucol" and its imitators ... is indeed effective for warding off or more quickly ridding oneself of a cold. Blue Elderberry was the first tree I ever propagated. I was "sold" when I found an incredible variety of birds eating its fruits -- everything from quail to woodpeckers.