Sambucus mexicana C. Presl
Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)
Tree, 2 to 8 m. tall, lvs. glabrous to pubescent or hispidulous beneath,
odd-pinnate, lfts. mostly 3-5, roundish to ovate or oblong-lanceolate, rather
abruptly acuminate, mostly 1.5-6 cm. long, finely serrate; infl. mostly .3-1 dm.
across; corolla regular, rotate, 5-lobed; stamens 5,
inserted at base of the corolla; ovary 3-5 loculed; style short; stigmas
3-5; berries either blue or white, glaucous.
Open flats and cismontane valleys and canyons below 4500 ft.; largely
Coastal Sage Scrub, Chaparral, S. Oak Wd.; n. L. Calif, n. to cent. Calif.;
occasional in desert mts. and to Ariz., etc.
Below 3000 m. March-Sept.
Sambucus is from a Greek word
for a musical instrument made from elder wood.
Mexicana indicates that the
plant is from that country. (Dale
91). The first specimens to be
named may have come from Mexico but the species is native to s. Calif. and Baja
Calif. (John Johnson).
Common in the study area. Photographed
along the road between the Newporter Inn and San Joaquin Hills Dr. and along the
path from 23rd Street to the Delhi area. (my
found this a most versatile plant. They
not only ate the fruit, they made a soothing tea from the dried blossoms for
fevers or spread it externally on sprains and itches.
After pushing out the pith in the wood, they turned it into flutes or
clappers. They also used the wood
to make bows. The fruit can be used
for pies and jams. (Dale 91).
Dried inner bark has been used for centuries as a dependable purgative.
The bark of the root is violently purgative and dangerous.
An ointment made from the leaves is good for bruises and sprains.
Fresh flowers are used to produce perspiration as is the wine made from
the berries. (Coon 196). A black dye from the twigs and fruit
was used in basketry. The fresh
fruit is not always palatable but after drying or cooking it can be used for
sauces, jellies, wines and syrups. The
flavor is similar to boysenberry.
Wine is also made from the flowers.
(Clarke 40). Elderberry berries are a source of
purple dye. If leaves are added the
dye will be black. Elderberry fruit
is best dried or cooked, the flowers are also edible. (lecture by Charlotte
Clarke, author of Useful and Edible Plants
of California, April 1987).
The birds eat the ripe berries and it was almost two years before I could
find a ripe clump to photograph. (my
mexicana has been known to accumulate free nitrates in quantities capable of
causing death or distress in cattle. (Fuller 385). In his interesting book, The
Folk-Lore of Plants, Mr. Thistleton Dyer says that S. glauca was reputed to be possessed of magic power, and that any
baptized person whose eyes had been anointed with the green juice of its inner
bark could recognize witches anywhere. One
of the trees is suspected as having furnished wood for the Cross; and to this
day the English country people believe themselves safe from lightning when
standing under an elder, because lightning never strikes the tree of which the
cross was made. (Parsons-page not
Parson's book was published in 1909.
The Cahuilla, Indians of the Colorado Desert, the Jacinto and San
Bernardino Mountains, used Elderberry
for food, medicine, dye and to make whistles. (Bean and Saubel 138). The most frequent use of Elder is to
stimulate sweating in dry fevers. The
flowers are the mildest and safest form of the plant, even suitable to be given
to small children with equal parts of peppermint as a weak tea; a home remedy of
ancient usage for breaking fevers. It
is advisable when making Elderberry jam or wine to strain out the seeds which
contain hydrocyanic acid and sambucine, a nauseating alkaloid found mostly in
the bark and root of the plant. The
fresh flowers steeped in water overnight are a widely used face conditioner.
(Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain
West 73). Sambucus canadensis has
many of the same properties as S. mexicana.
Roots, stems and leaves of all species are dangerously poisonous.
Uncooked berries may cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Children making whistles or blowguns out of the dried stems of S.
canadensis have been poisoned. (James
81). Song birds, bandtailed pigeons and
grouse are fond of the berries. Among
the animals; rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, mice and rats eat the fruit and
bark; deer eat the foliage. A
decoction of the leaves is supposed to keep caterpillars from eating plants.
The Southern Diegueno Indians made a skirt from the inner bark the S.
mexicanus. (Campbell 218). About 20 species of temperate
and subtropical regions. (Munz, Flora
So. Calif. 333).
Variable, currently impossible to split into unified subgroups; detailed
study warranted. (Hickman, Ed.
Hickman, Ed. 474; Munz, Flora So.
Calif. 333; Roberts 17.
May 2 83 # 12,13; April-May 84 # 24; June 1 86 # 13.
Identity: by R. De Ruff,
confirmed by F. Roberts.
Computer Ref: Plant Data 210.
Have plant specimen.
Last edit 9/23/02.