This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
It was believed to drive away evil spirits in Germany, and after sunset wreaths of Elder are hung up on Good Friday as charms against lightning. Branches were used in May festivals. Sir John Maunde-ville said it stood on Mount Sion. Lest its evil smell should contaminate fruit trees it is not planted near them. In Belgium, for the toothache, they put an elder-twig in the mouth, and then, sticking it in a well, say:
" Depart thou evil spirit".
On the Continent it is used as a punishment. It was thought to be a cure for warts. In Chaucer's day it was called Hyldor or Hyllantre.
The leaves yield a volatile oil, used in poultices. The berries make good wine. In the time of Chaucer a strong infusion was used to destroy caterpillars. The middle bark was once used for dropsy. The flowers are diaphoretic and expectorant. The plant is used to flavour vinegar. It is a common ornamental shrub, cultivated in the garden, and showing variation, etc.
Essential Specific Characters: 137. Sambucus nigra, L. - Tree, with woody stem and furrowed grey bark, young bark purple, pithy, leaves pinnate, leaflets ovate, serrate, flowers creamy-white, in cyme with 5 branches, fruit black, luscious.