The lovely flat, cream-coloured flower heads of elder (Sambucus nigra) that are abundant in hedgerows in June produce clusters of dark purple, almost black, berries in the autumn. These berries are a great favourite with birds as they build up strength and fat reserves for the hardship of winter to follow.
Elder is found the world over and there are many differing subspecies of which the black berried 'nigra' is the most common in southern England. The red-berried and smaller variety, 'racemosa' is found in cooler, more northerly areas.
As with many of our hedgerow fruits elder berries are popular with us human-kind too. Elderberry wine is a favourite with home wine makers as it makes a lovely deep red claret coloured wine (although I have to say I prefer the real thing!). They can also be made into a jelly preserve for your morning toast. These berries have long been associated as a cure for just about every ailment under the sun but recent research shows that they may be beneficial in treating allergies and respiratory problems.
Whilst the berries of the black elder are not considered poisonous they should be cooked before consumption!