Saturday, February 5, 2011

Elders Revisited

Never consider a native plant a weed just because you do not understand it. A book could be filled up quickly with knowledge that is known and more about what is not known about our native Elderberry.
Since ancient Egypt parts of the Elderberry plants have been used by many cultures including many native American tribes. Our native purple or black Elderberry(Sambucus nigra canadensis) is native to nearly all the eastern half of the united States from Florida to Canada. it is now considered to be a subspecies of the European elder, (Sambucus nigra). the flowers and berries are both edible.But, almost every other part of the plant is toxic in some way unless it is used properly. The berries should be cooked or dried and not eaten raw. The flowers can be dipped in batter and fried as a fritter. The berries can be made into pies, jellies, wine and almost unending cooking uses.
Elderberry has been recognized since 400BC to have anti-viral properties. Much has been written about its use for the prevention and treatment for flu and cold symptoms. As of late research is being undertaken for Elderberries ability as an HIV fighter.
There is much lore associated with Elderberries also. One such tale says that if you sat under an Elderberry on a mid summer night elves and fairies will appear. Elderberries were also believed to have the ability to drive away bad witches and evil spirits. and always ask the plants permission before you pick berries, prune or move them, I always do.
As a landscape plant the American elderberry is a good or better choice than many other deciduous flowering shrubs. with attractive foliage, beautiful white blooms and attractive berries it is far from being ordinary or boring. elderberry can grow to three meters high and they do make new canes by suckering from the roots like many native plants. If planted on the edge of a lawn the lawn grass seems to do a very good job containing the elder in its tight place. If planting in a tilled garden spot the elder may move a little more than you wish but is far from being troublesome like bamboo. If this happens simply dig up unwanted canes. Elders are very hardy. they do benefit with a good mulch to prevent drying our during a drought situation but do not have to be planted with wet feet. a good mulch and regular moisture will help promote flowering and fruiting.
As a wildlife plant they are an excellent choice. Up to 50 species of birds like the berries. it also provides some cover for wildlife as well.
Other ways Elderberries have made contributions to our lives is that the canes have been used as taps on maple trees for the gathering of maple syrup. also many native American tribes and many other cultures have used the cane wood for making flutes. You can find many of these for sale on the web right now.
Elderberry has many uses for the home landscaper, for sustainable living, for wildlife gardening and for the herbalist. It is a very useful and attractive native plant to use.


  1. Kevin,

    Really good post, glad to see you back! I knew a bit about elderberry, yet I learned a lot more today!

  2. That is a nice tree...and the berries are useful too...:)

  3. My favorite stay-well remedy, made by GAIA Herbs, is an elderberry syrup. They refer to it as an immunity booster...having gotten through a houseful of sick kids at Christmas without succumbing, I'd have to say it works!

  4. Great post. Please to report my elderberry is blooming for the first's about 2 years old...I'm soooo proud!

  5. Besides the wonderful berries, you can make wine from the blossoms - elderblow.