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April 12
1738 - Fr. Francisco Garcés born in Spain; came through SCV in 1776, found Tataviam fighting with Coastal Chumash, observed Santa Clara River flowing by night and dry by day despite the season being spring [story]
Garces statue


Commentary by Mari Carbajal
| Thursday, Apr 16, 2015

maricarbajalDriving through Escondido Canyon about a month ago, I noticed some rather beautiful shrubs beginning to bloom. Scores of Mexican elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) line the roadway, boasting clusters of beautiful, buttery yellow flowers that fill your senses with nature at its best.

Mexican elder, now in the Adoxaceae family, was formerly thought to be in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae. However, it was reclassified due to genetic evidence. It’s a semi-evergreen, deciduous shrub (although some call it a bush or tree) that can reach up to 15 to 20 or even 30 feet, spreading to 20 feet wide when grown in full sun.

It requires plenty of water and well-drained soil, which is why it is often found next to stream beds and flourishing in riparian areas. This plant is able to tolerate alkaline and acidic soil. It’s also able to withstand clay and seasonal flooding.

elderberry1It makes an ideal shade tree for your backyard or garden, and an added bonus is it that it is pest-resistant. You can propagate this plant by cutting and planting a branch. Since it has multiple trunks, it produces suckers, so those would be ideal to cut and transplant while giving the original plant freedom to grow wider and higher. From April through June or August, this shrub produces the beautiful fragrant flowers, followed by clusters of berries in September and October.

Elderberry is incredibly versatile. Various parts of the plant have uses including cosmetic properties, such as soaking freshly cut flowers overnight for a facial conditioner. There are culinary uses – edible flowers and berries – and medicinal uses such as teas or tonics, to name a few. You can make dyes from the flower’s stems, and instruments from the wood – drums and some wooden instruments, due to the wood’s ability to produce excellent tone.

It’s a wonderful wildlife attractant, so keep an eye out when you see an elderberry. You might see our endangered bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, chipmunk, jays, thrashers, or several other species of birds and wildlife.

elderberry2Elderflower comes from the potentially toxic elder plant and is overlooked for its medicinal benefits. It is most frequently used for its flavoring properties and in making various foods and beverages. Both the flowers and berries in the elder plant can be used when properly prepared.

The elderflower is typically found to be safe to eat, but the leaves, roots and twigs are toxic and should be avoided, as they can lead to accumulation of poisonous cyanide in the body if not properly handled.

Elderflower can be dried for later use, and you can soak or cook down the flower into a drink. In this family, all but the black elderberries are toxic when eaten raw, so they should be cooked prior to use.

However, even the black variety should be cooked prior to use, due to the risk of nausea and other gastrointestinal problems.

Elderflower is rich in bioflavonoids, mostly flavones and flavonols, which are most commonly known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. The most abundant flavonols in elderflower are quercitin, isoquercitrin and anthocyanins, which have antiviral properties, as well.

elderberry3Elderflower also contains chlorogenic acids such as cinnamic acid, which can help with allergies, regulate blood glucose levels and have a laxative effect on the body. Triterpenoids, especially beta-amyrin, erythrodiol and oleanoic acid, are also found in elderflower. These triterpenoids offer a variety of health benefits including analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

The berries are used for their antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, improve vision, boost the immune system, improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsillitis. Elderberries contain organic pigments, tannin, amino acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, sugar, rutin, viburnic acid, vitamins A and B and a large amount of vitamin C. They are also mildly laxative, a diuretic, and diaphoretic. Flavonoids, including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic actions of the elderberry flowers and berries. According to test-tube studies, these flavonoids include anthocyanins that are powerful antioxidants and protect cells against damage.

Most species of Sambucus berries are edible when picked ripe and then cooked. Both the skin and pulp can be eaten. However, it is important to note that most uncooked berries and other parts of plants from this genus are poisonous.

Sambucus nigra is the variety of elderberry that is most often used for health benefits, as it is the only variety considered to be nontoxic even when not cooked, but it is still recommended to cook the berries at least a little to enhance their taste and digestibility.

If you are interested in pursuing this impressive specimen, search the Internet for its multitude of uses and benefits.

 

Mari Carbajal is a docent-naturalist at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

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