Saturday, February 19, 2011

Perfume Illuminated: Elder

In the dry, hot dessert climate of the chaparral biome a pretty white to pale yellow flower blooms in the Spring. This native dweller goes by the name Sambucus mexicana, commonly known as Mexican elderberry or Tapiro. The Elder grows all over the world in diverse conditions depending on the variety, today we highlight the genus Sambucus for our ongoing Perfume Illuminated Project.

“Your mother was a hamster and your father reeked of elderberries”
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail

When I hear the word Elderberry I immediately think of delicious cough syrups that we have in the medicinal section of the pantry. The small berries grow in clusters are a terrific food source for local fauna, particularly birds. Prior to the berries, the tree produces tiny little flowers that resemble one large bloom.

Here in my local woods the native Sambucus mexicana has already started blooming in the area. We often see a plethora of the local community feasting on the plant including the cute native ground squirrels, hummingbirds, and butterflies. I haven't noticed the honey bees in there, but be more conscious this year and probably plant one of these on out lot.

While on a plant walk with my knowledgeable friend Meghan she mentioned that you can make fritters with the flowers of the native Elder. She also mentioned that the original people of this area of California, known as the Chumash, created clapper sticks made from Elderberry wood to make ceremonial musical instruments.

Since the plant that I have here outside my studio is not currently blooming I am not able to provide you with a description of the scent. I do however has a sample of a Elder Flower C02 from Bulgaria that I just recently received. This extract is from the European Sambucus nigra.


The aroma of this essence is warm with carmel, hay and herbal notes. Other odors perceived in this extraction are: balsamic, tobacco, spice, chocolate and anise. According to Steffen Arctander there are also extractions of Sambucus nigra available to the botanical perfumer as an absolute, a concrete and an essential oil. In France the essential oil of dried Elder flower is known as " essence du surreau."

Speaking of the french, here is a snippet from Monty Python where the aroma of elderberries is used as an insult.


Besides the use of Elder berries for cough syrups and the flowers for fritters the little fruits are also used o make a cooling cordial, jelly, jam, chutney and even ketchup!

Please journey over to Beth at the Windesphere Witch blog for more savory notes on the flavor of Elder.

Resources: Fabulous site for ElderBerry recipes and information.

Images: Elderberry Flower Fairy by Cicely Mary Barker, all other is ©Roxana Villa

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