04 Dec 2021

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: Elder, the musical flu-fighter

With the Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: Elder, the musical flu-fighter

Elder. Picture: Nuala Madigan

When I hear the term ‘wildflower’ I presume the conversation is about those that grow direct in the soil. However, we cannot forget that our trees also produce beautiful wildflowers.

The elder (trom as Gaeilge) flowers are in bloom on the elder tree in our local communities at this time of year. The elder tree is a native species in Ireland that has a relatively short trunk, with the tree reaching a height of between 10 and 15 metres.

Its low-growing nature when compared to other trees means that it is often typically found growing in hedgerows.

The flowers are impressive as the small white-cream five-petalled blooms are tightly clustered together, creating a flat top or slightly convex head, measuring 10-30cm in diameter, which is supported by long stalks.

The fruits that will be beginning to emerge over the next few weeks are a dark purple in colour. The leaves are oval in shape and have toothed edges.

This tree can be described as ‘heavily’ scented, and that does not mean the scent is pleasant! In fact, if you brush against the leaves at this time of year they produce a very unpleasant scent. Similarly in winter, the twigs, which are green and hollow, also bear an unpleasant smell.

Even so, we have used the flowers to make elderberry cordial and the berries can be used, once cooked, to make jams, juices, pies and even wine.

The berries are also said to be a very good source of Vitamin C and were used in traditional medicine to help fight cold and flu. I must warn you that you should never eat any part of this tree raw, including the berries, flowers, leaves and twigs, as it is known to be poisonous and can cause stomach problems.

The wood from the elder tree is also used to make musical instruments, including pipes and whistles, as it is light with a soft core that is easily hollowed out.

If you would like help identifying or to learn more about a wildlife species contact me via email at

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