Historical Uses for Elderberry Stems

Jun 21, 2018

Credit SC Public Radio

Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. A Clemson botany professor, the late Dr. John Fairey made learning about the local flora fun with his unusual and often fascinating comments about plants.   We learned that the stems of elderberry, in glorious bloom now, are “weakly lignified.” The outer portion of the stem is truly woody while the interior is filled with pith. Dr. Fairey told us that in the days before synthetic packing material, elderberry pith was used to pack delicate scientific instruments. I’ve also found references that watchmakers used elderberry pith to clean their tools. In the days before matches, fire starters used elderberry pith as tender.  Across the world, people have cleared out the pitch to make strong tubes from elderberry stems. These have been turned into flutes, blow-guns, pea shooters for kids, pipes for smoking tobacco, and to serve as drains in collecting maple sap.