Tag Archives: elderberry

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Blue Elderberry Ethnobotany

Family:
ADOXACEAE – Muskroot Family
Scientific Name:
Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea (Raf.) R. Bolli
Synonyms:
S. glauca Nutt., S. mexicana
Common Names:
Blue elderberry, pale elder, elderberry
Indian names (the vertical bars should be horizontal over the letter they follow, as should be the umlauts):
Ke|-we|’ ma:m—ke|-we|’ (+ma:m for the berry, Yuki), chin-so:k’ (Wailaki), no|-ko|m-he|-in’-e| (Concow), ba:-te|’ ka:-la|’ (Yokia), kit-ta|’ (+bu-ki|’ for the berry, Calpella, Potter Valley, Little Lake), ga-lu|’ bu-ki|’ (also the berry, Little Lake)

USE FOR FOOD
Berries – eaten by the Shasta (Dixon 1907). Eaten by Mendocino area Indians and Kashaya Pomo raw, dried for the winter, or sugar added and made into pies, canned, and jellied (Chesnut 1902, Goodrich et al. 1980).

USES FOR MEDICINE
Flowers – flower stalks are dried in the sun, then put in a bag and shaken til the flowers fall off (Goodrich et al. 1980). Dried flowers were kept in most Indian’s homes (Chesnut 1902). Made into a lotion used for fevers, sprains and bruises, or made into an antiseptic wash for itch and for open sores in domestic animals (Chesnut 1902). Taken internally by the Little Lake to stop lung bleeding in consumption (Chesnut 1902). An infusion was used to break a fever (Goodrich et al. 1980).
Inner bark – is a strong emetic, but was seldom used by Mendocino Co. Indians (Chesnut 1902).
Root – a decoction was used as a healing lotion on open sores and cuts (Goodrich et al. 1980).

USES FOR TOOLS
Wood – the very soft pith (innermost wood) was used as tinder for firestarting with flint and steel (Chesnut 1902). The soft wood was used as a spindle stick for friction firestarting (Chesnut 1902). Sticks with the pith removed were used for making syringes or squirt guns, whistles, flutes, and clapping sticks, the latter consisting of a split stick wrapped together at one end which was held and the other end struck against the palm or leg (Chesnut 1902, Goodrich et al. 1980).

Habitat: open woods and canyons or moist flats of hill country along streams, 0-3070 m (Goodrich et al. 1980, Calflora).

Notes: previously in the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae).
Gathering Seasons:

Flowers: early – mid-summer. Berries: late summer. Root: late summer – fall. Branches: fall. (Goodrich et al. 1980)

Elderberry Pipes

Elderberry Pipes

Elderberry (Sambucus sp.) is a fantastic tree to make pipes from. (It also has edible flowers, berries, and many other uses). It’s easy to make pipes from elderberry because it’s inner pith (the central tissue of a large woody stem) is very soft and spongy. To make a pipe, the California Indians would ram the pith of sections of elderberry sticks with sharpened, fire-hardened sticks of a hard wood such as mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides). Such simple tubes of elderberry were packed with tobacco and smoked, or formed the stem of a pipe having a bowl of stone or clay.

I have not read of any Indians making pipes like mine above. I cut sticks in sections just behind a right angle bend, and on the other side of the fork, left room for the pipe stem. So after I formed a tube from the main length, I carved out a bowl from the nub of the fork, and carefully connected the bottom of the bowl to the tube with a thin tube I drilled perpendicular to the first tube. I used a long flathead screwdriver that I sharpened at the tip for the initial drilling, then cleaned out the tubes with a round bastard file. I stained the pipes with linseed oil to protect them. The staining really brings out the beautiful patterns left on the inner bark by bark beetles.

I used only dead, downed wood, so there was no need to dry or season the wood, nor cut any live tissue. The species in the SF Bay Area is Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea. The first few uses, I smoked plentiful material and didn’t inhale, in order to “cure” the bowl; leaving it thoroughly burnt inside so future smokes don’t have me inhaling elderberry wood smoke. (The pic shows them freshly cut; after curing the bowls are charred black).

I have been using such pipes for smoking herbal blends for years and prefer them (for functionality) any other I’ve ever owned. I’ve made about six of all sizes. They each took about 30 minutes total work time.