Sambucus javanica (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Sambucus javanica Reinw. ex Blume

Protologue: Bijdr. fl. Ned. Ind. 13: 657 (1826).
Family: Caprifoliaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 36


Sambucus thunbergiana Blume ex Miq. (1866), Sambucus formosana Nakai (1917), Sambucus henriana Samutina (1986).

Vernacular names

  • Javanese elder (En)
  • Indonesia: sengitan (Javanese), ki tespong (Sundanese)
  • Philippines: galamat, kalamat (Igorot), sauko (Tagalog)
  • Vietnam: cơm cháy, thuốc mọi, sóc dịch.

Origin and geographic distribution

S. javanica occurs in India, Burma (Myanmar), Indo-China, southern China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and throughout Malesia except Peninsular Malaysia and the Moluccas.


In Mindanao (the Philippines) the plant is considered a remedy for fatigue. In Indonesia the leaves are considered laxative, and an infusion of flowers and leaves is used as a sudorific and diuretic. An infusion of dried leaves is considered antirheumatic and analgesic in Malaysia. In Indo-China the flowers and fruits are used in folk medicine as a depurative, diuretic and laxative. In Thailand crushed aerial parts are applied as a poultice to inflammations. In China the whole plant is used as an antirheumatic, an analgesic and to treat bone diseases in general. It is considered diaphoretic, but also poisonous and emetic. A decoction is used in a bath for treating skin diseases, painful swellings or inflammations resulting from mechanical injuries. External use is said to soothe rheumatic pains and accelerate the healing process after fractures. The young leaves are occasionally used as a tea substitute or as a cooked vegetable.


S. javanica shows antihepatotoxic properties, which can be attributed to the presence of ursolic acid (a triterpene carboxylic acid).

Fruit extracts of the European black elder ( S. nigra L.) showed antiviral properties, especially against different strains of influenza virus, and might be beneficial to the immune system activation. Tests demonstrated insulin-releasing and insulin-like activity of these extracts, supporting the traditional use for the treatment of diabetes, and also diuretic activity in rats. A rhizome extract of another European species, S. ebulus L., showed antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects. Anthocyanins are responsible for the demonstrated antioxidant activity of S. nigra fruits. Ribosome-inactivating proteins without in-vivo toxicity have been isolated from several Sambucus species.


A perennial herb with creeping rhizome, shrub or small tree up to 7 m tall; stem grooved or smooth. Leaves opposite, (5-)7-13-foliolate (1-3-foliolate below inflorescence); stipules glandular or foliaceous; leaflets oblong, lanceolate or linear-lanceolate, 7-22(-30) cm × 1.5-6.5 cm, base cuneate to cordate, apex acuminate, shallowly serrate with lower teeth glandular swollen, shortly stalked to sessile. Inflorescence a terminal, flat-topped, 3-5(-7)-rayed corymb up to 30 cm in diameter, with urceolate yellow, orange or scarlet nectaries in the outer axils. Flowers bisexual, regular, 4-5 mm in diameter, 5-merous, lemon-scented; calyx lobes minute; corolla rotate, with valvate lobes, white or creamy; stamens spreading, anthers yellow; ovary inferior, 3-celled, stigmas 3. Fruit a globose berry 3-4 mm in diameter, black or rarely scarlet to orange, 3-seeded. Seeds ovoid, often ventrally flattened, verrucose. Seedling with epigeal germination.

S. javanica can be found flowering and fruiting throughout the year. Beetles are the main pollinators, and may provide self- as well as cross-pollination. Dispersal of the juicy berries is most likely effected by frugivorous birds. Germination of seeds takes less than a month in full light.

Sambucus comprises 9 species and numerous subspecies, and occurs throughout the Northern hemisphere, but is of scattered occurrence in the Southern hemisphere. S. javanica populations in the northern part of the area of distribution tend to be perennial herbs or shrubs with orange or red fruits, whereas in the Malesian region shrubs or small trees with scarlet or black fruits predominate.


S. javanica is found in relatively moist primary and secondary forest along fringes and in clearings from sea-level up to 2500 m altitude; in South-East Asia it is most common above 1000 m altitude.

Genetic resources

S. javanica is widespread and well adapted to disturbed habitats. It is not threatened by genetic erosion.


Little is known about the pharmacological activities of S. javanica . Results on pharmacological research on temperate Sambucus species are very promising, and further research on S. javanica seems therefore worthwhile.


16, 99, 291, 671, 731, 760, 953, 970.

Other selected sources

247, 559, 732, 952.

Main genus page


J.L.C.H. van Valkenburg