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Elder: International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year 2013

Fri, Apr 12th, 2013
Posted in All Features

By Sandra Manion, Owner, Oak Spring Herb Farm, Member International Herb Association

Since 1995, the International Herb Association has chosen an Herb of the Year. The Horticultural Committee evaluates possible choices based on the herb’s outstanding characteristics in at least two of the three major categories: culinary, medicinal, or decorative. Many other herb organizations support the Herb of the Year selection and work together to educate the public. This year, Elder has been chosen, and is used in all three areas.

Elder is an easy to grow shrub. It can be considered a nuisance because it grows fast in an extremely wide climate range all throughout North America, is able to adapt to many soil conditions, and can grow in either sun or partial shade. It propagates by seed and suckers. Size is variable, usually 5-12’ or taller, depending upon habitat and species. There are several species within the elderberry genus (Sambucus). Nigra is the main species and produces edible fruit. Subspecies of Nigra are caerulea and cerula. They have numerous cultivars that are selected for edible fruit and/or ornamental uses. European elder (racemosa), and it’s subspecies (pubens) produce fruit that is only edible by birds and wildlife. Only blue or purple elderberries are edible.

Culinary uses of elderberries can produce tasty treats. Elderberries can be substituted for blackberries in most recipes. They make a great jam or jelly. Berries or juice can be used in baking. Juice can be used for tea or cordials.

Elderberry Mint Tea

2 cups water

2 tea bags or 2 tablespoons of loose tea

2 tablespoons dried elderberries

2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves

Bring all ingredients to a boil, remove from heat and steep for at least 5 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and serve immediately.

Elderberries have anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. A 1995 study showed that elder fruit extract shortened influenza infections. Elderflowers have been used for centuries to help reduce fevers and act as an anti-inflammatory.

Elderflower Medicine

1 tablespoon dried elderflowers

1 cup water

Bring water to a boil. Add elderflowers and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain before drinking.

A popular decorative elder is Sambucus nigra Black Lace. It has feathery purple leaves and pink flowers. Within the nigra species, there are also variegated varieties such as Madonna, Marginata and Pulverulenta.

Elder is outstanding in all three categories making it an excellent choice for the 2013 Herb of the Year!

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