Stems. - Scarcely woody, five to ten feet high. Leaves. - Divided into toothed leaflets. Flowers. - White, small, in flat-topped clusters. Calyx. - Lobes minute or none. Corolla. - With five spreading lobes. Stamens. - Five. Pistil. - One, with three stigmas. Fruit. - Dark-purple, berry-like.

The common elder borders the lanes and streams with its spreading flower-clusters in early summer, and in the later year is noticeable for the dark berries from which "elderberry wine" is brewed by the country people. The fine white wood is easily cut and is used for skewers and pegs. A decoction of the leaves serves the gardener a good purpose in protecting delicate plants from caterpillars. Evelyn wrote of it: "If the medicinal properties of the leaves, berries, bark, etc., were thoroughly known, I cannot tell what our countrymen could ail for which he might not fetch from every hedge, whether from sickness or wound."

The white pith can easily be removed from the stems, hence the old English name of bore-wood.

The name elder is probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon aeld - a fire - and is thought to refer to the former use of the hollow branches in blowing up a fire.