About the elder

Part 1: History

D. Adams cultivated the first two kinds of elder trees in 1920 in Ohio USA. In 1954 in Hornum, Jütland Denmark, the Danes were experimenting with elder trees. They quickly came to the conclusion that there are typically sweet and sour types of elder. The Danish analyses concluded that American grades were superior to European. Elder trees were first grown commercially in Europe, in Klosterneuburg, by Strauss and Novak in 1960.

Stricter food laws led to the opportunity to grow elder trees in larger quantities. Since less chemical food colouring was allowed in the food industries, the natural colouring, Sambucyanin, found in elder trees, reached prime importance.

After the importance of elder juice increased, larger elder tree plantations were established in Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and also Germany. Along the Rhein in Germany, between Klosterneuburg Koblenz and Bonn, there was an area of 40-50 ha of elder at the beginning of 1990.

As of today we have an area of 25 ha of elder in Switzerland, which is primarily used for elder flower production.

Part 2: Botanical Classification

Botanische EinordnungDie Gattung Holunder (bot. Sambucus) gehört zur Familie der Geissblattgewächse (Caprifoliaceae) und umfasst 25 verschiedene Arten. Darunter befinden sich Gehölze sowie auch Stauden. Diese Arten sind vor allem in Europa, Amerika und Asien weit verbreitet.
Manche Arten kommen sogar in Afrika oder Australien vor. Der Name „Holunder“ hat sich erst in jüngerer Zeit durchgesetzt. In Deutschland wurde der Holunder früher üblicherweise „Flieder“ genannt. Dieser Name wurde später auf die Gattung Syringa übertragen, welche erst im 18. Jahrhundert nach Deutschland kam.

Part 3: Ingredients - Health

The black elder contains a lot of active organic substances like fibres, tanning agents and colorants, the colorant Sambucynin, belonging to the flavonoids, is especially very valuable medically. It is supposed to prevent cardiovascular disease. If consumed in larger quantities, elder products also have a laxative effect.

The acid content of the fruit is 1.0 – 1.1 mg/100g, which is very low for processing. Wine-, apple-, vinegar- and valerian-acid is very low to. Elder also agrees with acid sensible people because of the low acid content.

Numerous vitamins are also included and are stabilized by the tanning agent. The juice especially contains lots of vitamin C and free amino acids (5-8 g/l).
The colorant Sambucynin gives the elder its typical colour and is also very conducive to good health. Up to 60% of this colorant is in the skin of the berries. It is said to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Ingredients Elder content (mg/100g)
Pro-Vitamin A (Carotene) 0,20 – 0,51
Vitamin B1 0,065
Vitamin B2 0,078
Vitamin B6 0,25
Vitamin C 18,0
Total fruit acid 1,0 – 1,1
Phosphor (P) 57,0
Calcium (Ca) 35,0
Potassic (K) 305,0
Sodium (Na) 0,5
Part 4: Variety: Haschberg

This is the most cultivated variety of elder in Europe, we also have it in our plantations.

This variety has strong growth and is particularly suitable for a standard tree. The annual shoots grow up to 2 m in an angular upright direction. The middle sized crown has a ball-like, hanging shape.

Big umbels consisting of white-yellowish inflorescences start blooming at the beginning of June. They stand upright on the shoots and are late-frost-resistant. This variety produces large crops even in non frost-proof areas. Even when they bloom during bad weather periods, no crop damage occurs. The crops are not only constant but also very large and appear early in the season.

The oval to round fruit is small and blue-black by beginning to middle of September, ripening a little later. The umbel is large, hanging and consists of five single-umbels. Ten umbels weigh up to 1.10 kg. The fruit is matt and has a white core point. The fruit is attached to the branch and even when fully ripe does not fall off. Also the fruit is very rich in colorant. The fruit contains 21% dry substance, 14 % sugar, 2.8% acid and 100 mg vitamin C.

The “Haschberg” is very resistant to vermin and germs, only plant lice can occur in areas with low winds.

Part 5: Ocurrence

The black elder itself is a historical, cultivated plant and it has always been planted close to human habitation. It was also exported to other countries, where it has been established as a domestic plant. Since growing as standard tree has increased steadily, the natural habitat will expand even more.

Originally black elder was only found on riverbanks and in lowland forests in the middle of Europe. Today it is found all over Europe, from the Danube to Scandinavia. Elder is also widespread in the Caucasus, in Asia Minor as well as in west Siberia and North Africa.

This kind of elder is a frost-resistant pioneer in shrubs, because the demands on the ground are minor. The plant even grows in areas with a high risk of frost and in landfills. It’s found especially on nutrient-rich ground. On humid substrates, enriched with nitrogen, it can almost become an annoying weed. More places where elder can be found are fences, field borders, light woods and primitive bushes. In the Alps, black elder is found up to an altitude of 1200 m.

Part 6: Image

Black elder is a shrub with a height of 5-6 m or a small tree of about 7 m with a more or less distinct stem. The branching is often very mazy.

The imparipinnate leaves usually consist of five pinnas. Their shape is elliptic, pointed, slim, not shiny, sharp edged on top, dark green on the bottom side, lighter green to blue green.

The yellowish, white, sweet smelling blossoms emerge at the beginning of June. They are integrated to large, flat, end-positioned panicles, which stand up in the beginning and hang down later. The diameter is approx. 15 cm.

The small round fruit is actually a small stone fruit, with a diameter of only 5-7 mm. The colour is dark red, and it has a stem, when ripe, that is black and shiny. They contain a blood-red juice and three seeds. The pulp portion is 95%.

Part 7: Location requirement

The requirements of the elder are very low. It can take strong winter frosts as well as early- and late frosts.

Elder cannot be planted in nutrient-poor soil, since this plant needs nutrient-rich soil and a sufficient water supply. The nitrate demand is high and the soil must be deep, well aired and permeable. Ideal would be a middle heavy to sandy clay soil with a ph-value of 5,5 – 6,5. The yearly average rainfall should be 700 mm. The plant prefers wind-protected areas.

Part 8: Pruning

Black elder has to be pruned regularly to achieve a good crop. This plant accepts almost any kind of pruning even a total rejuvenating cut. There are two kinds of shapes. The shrub shape and the tree shape. The shrub can reach a height of 5 m. The tree, in plantations, is usually kept down to 2-3 m. Advantages of the tree shape are: fruit branches in freshly planted areas will not touch the ground; the fruit is protected from dirt; pruning and harvesting are made easier. The tree shape achieves better crops compared to the shrub shape. Another disadvantage of the shrub shape is the susceptibility to fungus.

First Pruning

Right after planting, the shoots are shortened to two buds. The stem- and ground shoots have to be removed numerous times during the same year. The crown shoots start to bend outwards when blossoms and fruit start developing. The crown boost is very clearly visible at this point. So after this year, the stems, that had fruit, have to be cut down to the main shoots, so the fruit juices will be deflected to those shoots. Later on these cut down main shoots represent the actual supporting frame.


The strongly growing elder trees develop lots of upwards-growing shoots that reach a height of approx. 2 m, every year. These shoots produce lots of side-shoots with seed heads at the ends in the following year. The heavy weight of the blossom and seed heads makes the branches bend and arch outwards. This favours the development of annual shoots in the crown-middle. After harvest, only the withered biennial branches have to be cut off leaving approx. 10 – 12 strong, annual shoots growing close to base.

Part 9: Cultivation Work

Pest Management

The black elder is very resistant to vermin and germs. There is one spraying done at the beginning of summer against elder plant lice and a spraying at the end of June, middle of July and beginning of August against fruit-decay.

Soil Management and Fertilisation

The grass is cut with a “mulcher” approx. 5-8 times a year. Mousetraps are used for mice. Pig manure is used as fertilisation at the beginning of the year as well as small amounts of fertilizer enriched with micronutrient several times a year. The one meter wide tree band is burned-off to eliminate root competition. This also makes it harder for the mice to find the elder roots.

Part 10: Harvest


The blossoms are picked by hand at the beginning of June. Collected in plastic boxes they are processed immediately to avoid heating up and burning of the blossoms. The blossoms are either frozen, extracted or dried.


The berries are harvested by hand in clusters and are juiced the same day in a winery.


Per hectare approx. 1’500 kg blossoms or approx. 10’000 kg berries.

Part 11: Processing

Elder Flower Harvest

After hand-picking the blossoms, they are put in a watery solution. After a few hours they are pressed with a grape-press. An exact filtration follows the pressing. The extract is filled in 20 lt. buckets. The high quality extract is stored at minus 18° C in a deep-freeze room.

Elder Beery Harvest

The berries are harvested by hand in clusters.
They are transported by truck to Hallau and are processed the same night to achieve the maximum quality of elder juice. First the berries are separated from the stems, with a so-called “berry-separater machine”.
The juice is heated up to 65° C to kill the hydrocyanic acid. The elder juice could otherwise cause diarrhoea. Immediately, the juice is filtered and stored at 0° C to avoid fermentation.

Holderhof Produkte AG

Phone +41 (0)71 387 40 40
Fax +41 (0)71 387 40 30

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