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(Viburnum or Moschatel family)


• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: Preparations of the leaves, stems, and roots of some species have been used in the treatment of wounds, bruises, chilblains, eczema and some parasitic skin infections or infestations. •
• Adverse effects: There are suggestions of skin irritancy following exposure to the leaf extract from one or more species. •
• Veterinary aspects: The ethnoveterinary use of Sambucus species for insect repellant and vulnerary purposes and as a snake bite remedy have been documented. •

This family as currently conceived comprises genera formerly classified variously in the Adoxaceae, Caprifoliaceae, and Sambucaceae (Willis 1973). The principal genus Viburnum L. accounts for about 192 species; Sambucus L. accounts for a further 22 species; and Adoxa L. just 4 species (Plants of the World Online). Whilst the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group [APG] proposed classification of these plants in the Adoxaceae (Angiosperm Phylogeny Group 2003, Angiosperm Phylogeny Group 2016), the Nomenclature Committee for Vascular Plants approved the conservation of Viburnaceae, and the General Committee for Botanical Nomenclature rejected a proposal to "super-conserve" the Adoxaceae as proposed by the APG (Wilson 2016).

Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus L.), the guelder rose (Viburnum opulus L.), and other Viburnum L. species, as well as elders of the genus Sambucus L. are found in Europe both in the wild and in cultivation as ornamental shrubs. A number of Viburnum hybrids and cultivars are also widely grown for their showy flowers and berries, fragrance, or good autumn colour (Hunt 1968/70).

The young, straight shoots of Viburnum dentatum L. and of Viburnum acerifolium L. have been used for making arrows (Howes 1974). The shrubs are both known as arrow wood.

Sambucus chinensis Lindl.
[syns Sambucus javanica Blume subsp. chinensis Fukuoka, Sambucus thunbergiana Blume ex Miq.]
Chinese Elder

In traditional Chinese medicine, a decoction of the leaves, stem and root of Sambucus thunbergiana (jie gu cao; 接骨草) is used in the bath in the treatment of itchy, scaly, and parasitic skin diseases (Stuart 1911).

Sambucus ebulus L.
[syn. Sambucus deborensis Košanin]
Danewort, Dwarf Elderberry, Walewort, Attich, Petit Sureau

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Sambucus nigra L. subsp. canadensis Bolli
[syns Sambucus canadensis L., Sambucus mexicana C.Presl ex DC., Sambucus simpsonii Rehder]
American Elder, American Black Elderberry, Blackberry Elder

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Sambucus nigra L. subsp. nigra
Elder, European Black Elderberry

According to Grieve (1931), elder leaves are used in the preparation of an ointment, Unguentum Sambuci Viride or Green Elder Ointment, which is a domestic remedy for bruises, sprains, chilblains, for use as an emollient, and for applying to wounds. Pereira (1842) also refers to this preparation, stating only that it is popularly used as a cooling ointment. He then adds that elder flowers are used to prepare White Elder Ointment, noting further that this has an agreeable odour but has no advantage over spermaceti ointment.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Maiden (1909b) referred to earlier literature suggesting that green elder leaves [presumably this taxon] are powerfully irritant: "An application of elder flower ointment had been ordered; the druggist, having no elder flowers at the time, used the green leaves instead and a very violent irritation resulted." A report from Central Italy (Leporatti & Corradi 2001) that the fresh leaves are applied to warts, is similarly suggestive of irritancy.

Viburnum dentatum L.
Arrow Wood Viburnum, Roughish Arrow Wood, Southern Arrow Wood

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Viburnum dilatatum Thunb.
Linden Viburnum, Linden Arrow Wood

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Viburnum opulus L.
Dog Rowan, European Cranberrybush, European Snowball Viburnum, May Rose, Rose Elder, Water Elder, Whitsun Rose

McCord (1962) noted the commercial availability of an oleoresin extract of snowball viburnum [possibly this species] for patch testing. There appear to be no reports of dermatitis from members of this genus.

It should be noted that other species of Viburnum L. are also known as snowball viburnums, for example the Chinese snowball viburnum is Viburnum macrocephalum Fortune, and the Japanese snowball viburnum is Viburnum plicatum Thunb.


  • Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2003) An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG II. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141(4): 399-436 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2016) An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG IV. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 181(1): 1-20 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Grieve M (1931) A Modern Herbal. The medicinal, culinary, cosmetic and economic properties, cultivation and folk-lore of herbs, grasses, fungi, shrubs & trees with all their modern scientific uses, 1 & 2. London: Jonathan Cape [WorldCat] [url]
  • Howes FN (1974) A Dictionary of Useful and Everyday Plants and their Common Names. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Hunt P (Ed.) (1968/70) The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of Gardening. London: Marshall Cavendish [WorldCat]
  • Maiden JH (1909b) On some plants which cause inflammation or irritation of the skin. Part II. Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales 20(12): 1073-1082 [url] [url-2]
  • McCord CP (1962) The occupational toxicity of cultivated flowers. Industrial Medicine and Surgery 31(8): 365-368
  • Pereira J (1842) Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, 2nd edn, Vols 1 & 2. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Stuart GA (1911) Chinese Materia Medica. Vegetable Kingdom. Extensively revised from Dr. F. Porter Smith's work. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Willis JC (1973) A Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns, 8th edn. (Revised by Airy Shaw HK). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Wilson KL (2016) Report of the General Committee: 15. Taxon 65(5): 1150-1151 [doi] [doi-2] [url] [url-2]
  • [ + 12 further references not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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