Hedgerow Bounty

Elder flower (1)

The flat-topped, creamy-white flower clusters or corymbs of the Elder (Sambucus nigra) or Trom in Irish formed lofty, fragrant tiers when they dominated the hedgerows in June.  These flowers were used to make wines, cordials and elderflower water which is used as a skin cleanser (1).

Ripening elderberries (2a)
Elderberries (2b)

The flowers have now turned into purplish/black berries (2a;2b)) These berries will hang in fruit-heavy clusters until November.  These are rich in flavonoids and Vitamin C and there is some evidence that tonics made from them ward off colds and flus and alleviate their symptoms. It is good practice not to eat them raw because they contain toxic substances.  However, they are fine when they are cooked and are used to make wines, liqueurs, jellies, crumbles, tonics, teas, syrups and chutneys and are eaten by birds (3).

Elderberry cluster eaten by birds (3)

To sow the seeds, they need to be extracted by placing the berries in a plastic bag and left to ferment so that the seeds can be removed from the flesh.  The berries can also be soaked and as they soften, the seeds can easily be extracted.Place the seeds between layers of horticultural sand mixed equally with peat-free compost in a pot or mix the seeds with the sand/compost mix in a ratio of 3:1 mixture to seed.  Leave the pot outside until March when the seeds can be removed from the pot and sown individually in small pots of compost or in groups of five in 13cm diameter pots.  The process of germinating seeds by mixing them with sand is called stratification.
Seeds can also be sown 2.5 cm deep in individual pots of compost and left outside over the winter. 
The town of Trim in Meath is named after the elder.  In Irish it is called Baile Átha Troim which means the town of the ford of the elder.