Propagating Elder Trees

Elder Tree (Sambucus nigra)
An Elder is a worthwhile investment

An Elder Tree (Sambucus nigra or S. canadiensis) is one of the most useful trees that you can have in your garden, whatever size the garden. They grow big when left to their own devices but can be grown equally successfully in a large pot.

They’re so useful because every part of the tree is medicinal! As times have progressed, we don’t use the roots anymore – they are a premiere purgative that will clean you out from both ends but purging has gone out of fashion. Nowadays, folks prefer a gentler action but purging used to be all the rage.

Elder Flowers
A beautiful bunch of Elder flowers

The leaves are great for minor wounds and are also a gentler laxative and the flowers are one of the best herbal remedies for colds that you’ll ever come across. The berries for which Elders are famous are full of vitamin C and antioxidants. They also contain a compound that prevents viruses from combining with human cells,making Elder trees particularly relevant in these times of pandemic. You can find out more here. Elders also have a reputation of helping plants growing around them grow better.

Propagating Elder trees

Every cut of older wood gives 2 new branches!
Every cut of older wood gives two new branches!

The best thing about propagating and Elder Tree from a cutting is that every branch that you take a cutting from will form two new branches. As the flowers and then the berries develop on the new growth, when you take a cutting, you are increasing the productivity of your tree.

Propagating an Elder Tree is easy! All you need is to cut some of the older, woody material, a piece over 5 cm long is best (shorter pieces will work but 5 cm is a handy, manageable size). Young, green wood will work, though the results aren’t as predictable as the brown stuff.

After you have taken your cuttings, all that you have to do is to stand them in water, damp soil or potting mix for a couple of weeks. I’ve had success just sticking cuttings straight into the ground!

You can add a tiny drop of Seasol or similar seaweed tonic to the water that you keep the cuttings in. This can give things a boost but it isn’t really necessary, the cuttings will do OK by themselves. Change the water a couple of times until the process is finished to keep things fresh and oxygenated.

Just leave cuttings in water for a couple of weeks.
Just leave cuttings in water for a couple of weeks.

When it’s ready, your cutting will start to get white lumps on it where it is below the water level in your container. These are new root buds that have been sitting dormant underneath the bark. After a few more days, you will see roots growing form these. Once these roots have formed, just transfer the rooted cutting to the place you want your Elder Tree to grow.

Give your newly planted tree a good water and maybe add a little Seasol or similar, just to give it a boost. You will possibly have flowers in the first year and berries shortly after, though I recommend picking the flower buds off before they open in that first year in order to help the young tree direct its energy to root development and leaf growth.

New roots will ,come from these white lumps.
New roots will come from these white nodules.
When roots have grown, it's time to plant the cuttings out.
When roots have grown, it’s time to plant the cuttings out.

Note: Parts of an Elder tree contain cyanogenic glycosides which can break down to release cyanide. This is especially true of the bark. The bark, unripe berries and seeds contain small amounts of substances known as lectins, which can cause stomach problems you eat too much. Elder trees are extremely useful but should be used medicinally with caution.

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