The Elderberry – Sambucus nigra, are beautiful berry-producing shrubs and trees for North America zones 3-8.
After publishing our article on Best Herbs for Colds and Flu1)https://gardensall.com/best-herbs-for-colds-and-flu/, quite a discussion ensued on our Facebook page with folks wanting to know more about Elderberries.
- What zone do they grow in?
- What variety to grow?
- Are they hard to grow?
- How do the berries taste?
- How big do they get?
- Is it a shrub or a tree?
So… we went sleuthing online to find some answers for you and for us… and we’ve added elderberries to our yard this year.
If you’re already growing elderberries, please share comments here or over on the Gardens All Facebook page.
How to Grow Elderberry Plants
Excerpted from article by Kathee Mierzejewski on GardenKnowHow.com
Growing elderberries is not all that difficult. They can tolerate different conditions like soil that is in poor condition or soil that is too wet. One thing growing elderberries cannot tolerate, however, is drought.
When planting elderberry bushes, you should note that the berries will grow on the bushes the first year you plant them. Just remember that the berries will do better the second year.
Elderberry planting is done best on well-drained loamy soil. Sandy soils should be improved by adding a few inches of organic matter.2)http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/soil-fertilizers/amending-sandy-soil.htm
When elderberry planting, make sure to allow for cross-pollination. Therefore, two or more cultivars can be planted near each other. This allows for the necessary cross-pollination.
When planting elderberry bushes, plant them one meter apart in rows that are four to five meters apart. Make sure you do your elderberry planting early in the spring. After planting, be sure to water them so they get a good start.
The best time to plant them is springtime, and you can find them on Amazon, and likely at your favorite nursery as well. Just call before you go to save a trip, and if they don’t have them in stock, chances are they can order then for you. Just price compare to decide.
More on Growing Elderberry
Excerpted from Garden.org with Charlie Nardozzi
Elderberries are one of the easiest and most versatile shrubs to grow in your edible landscape. These Central European and North American natives are often found growing wild along roadsides, forest edges, and abandoned fields.
The prize for growing elderberries is the fragrant, edible flowers and the delicious fruits. The dark purple berries contain vitamins A and B, and more vitamin C than oranges. They are also high in cancer-fighting antioxidants. In fact, elderberry fruits have historically been used to treat many ailments, such as respiratory problems, colds, and flus. Plus, they are tasty when used in juices, jellies, jams, teas, pies, and wine.
Elderberries fruit best when you plant at least two different varieties within 60 feet of each other. They start producing when the plants are 2 to 3 years old. While all elderberries produce berries, there are several varieties of the American elderberry that are especially good fruit producers.
Elderberries Grow in Zones 3-8 in North America
Top Elderberries for Fruit Production in North America
- Adams‘ – This American variety grows 8 to 10 feet tall. The large, juicy, dark purple fruits ripen in August and are great for making pies. The strong branches hold the berries upright. Plant a pollinator variety such as ‘Johns’ for maximum fruiting.
- ‘Black Beauty’ – This striking European variety features purple foliage and lemon-scented pink flowers. It grows 6 to 8 feet tall and wide and can be grown in perennial borders or as a foundation plant.
- ‘Black Lace‘ – This eye-catching European selection looks like a Japanese maple with its dark purple, deeply cut foliage. Like ‘Black Beauty’, this variety also grows 6 to 8 feet tall and wide, producing pink flowers and dark purple fruits.
- ‘Johns’ – This early-producing American variety produces an abundance of berries that are especially good for making jelly. Growing 12 feet tall and wide, this variety is a good pollinator for ‘Adams’.
- ‘Nova‘ – This American variety can be self-fruitful, but does best with another American elderberry growing nearby. Large, sweet fruit are produced on compact, 6-foot shrub.
For more varieties, site selection, planting, growing, harvesting and caring for elderberries, visit this original article on Garden.org, one of our favorite resources for gardening.4)http://garden.org/ediblelandscaping/?page=july_elderberry
You may also enjoy these other articles on elderberry.5)https://gardensall.com/home-remedies-you-can-grow/6)https://gardensall.com/healing-herbal-teas-colds-flu/
So we’ve planted elderberries this year. We’re looking forward to when we can harvest for the medicinal benefits, the beautiful flowers (which you can use in tea and salads), and for the beauty it adds to the landscape as well as for the berries for syrups and teas.
Health Benefits of Elderberries and Elderflowers
The health benefits of the sambucus nigra elderberry plant are many. These gems of berries have been used for centuries across the continents in North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa, and as such, we’re fortunate to have numerous studies that corroborate the folk medicine lore.
There are look-alike plants though, in particular, water hemlock and also pokeberry. So, as ever, if you’re in the wild, just be sure it’s elderberry before consuming.
Are Elderberries Safe to Eat Raw?
There tends to be a lot of confusion over whether it’s safe to eat Elderberries raw. Some say never, others say they’ve eaten them all their life with no problem. This excerpt from Wikipedia sums it up:
The ripe, cooked berries (pulp and skin) of most species of Elderberry (Sambucus) are edible.
IMPORTANT: Most uncooked elderberries and other parts of the elderberry plant genus are poisonous.
Sambucus nigra is the only variety considered to be non-toxic eaten raw.
However, many prefer their elderberries cooked slightly for improved taste, often with added sugar, such as for jams and syrups. However, oldtimers say that if you can leave the berries on the tree until they’re fully ripe, then the taste is significantly improved.
Leave the leaves, twigs, branches and seeds of the elderberry alone. Sambucus plants can contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside, which, if ingested can cause a toxic buildup of cyanide in the body.
But be safe. Do not construe this as the bible on elderberry. We have researched this to share it with you, but you must always exercise caution and due diligence on your own, using wild edible field guides by experts to validate and verify. If you’re in doubt, don’t until you can verify in the field with an expert.
Health Benefits of Elderberry
Do NOT consume the leaves, roots, twigs or green, unripened elderberries, contain toxic levels of cyanide.
Elderberries Health Benefits
- lowers cholesterol
- improves vision
- boosts immune system
- more antioxidant capacity than either vitamin E or vitamin C
- improves heart health
- aids in coughs, colds and flu
- nasal and chest congestion
- hay fever
- fights bacterial and viral infections
- fights tonsillitis
- yeast infections
Elderflowers Health Benefits
The elderflower is most often used for flavoring in food and drinks and can also be dried and used similar to herbal teas and concoctions.
- alleviates some allergies
- boosts immune system by boosting the production of cytokines7)http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-elderberry.html
- topically, elderflower can help reduce pain and swelling from arthritis
- stops bleeding
- oral rinse
- Effective against MRSA8)http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380715471_Hearst%20et%20al.pdf
- mouthwash and gargle
- sinus infections
- respiratory disturbances
- reduces blood sugar levels similar to insulin
- amino acids
- flavonoids: such as quercetin, tannin, rutin
- viburnic acid
- vitamins A, B, B6
- vitamin C (at 87% or RDA)
- beta carotene
Flavonoids, including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic actions of the elderberry flowers and berries. According to test tube studies these flavonoids include anthocyanins that are powerful antioxidants and protect cells against damage.
We were really sorry to hear that some in the GardensAll community lost their elderflowers and/or elderberries to critters such as deer and birds. So if that’s you, or you don’t have any elderberry bushes yet, you can buy them in various forms online.
You can find Elderberry and Elderflower tea, wine, berries, flowers, supplement and tinctures, in your local healthfood stores, or on Amazon, where you can even buy elderberry plants, but remember, they’re best planted in spring.
Elderberry Wine Recipe
Of course, to make wine is to be perfectly capable of delayed gratification, because it’s a lot of work for something that you won’t be able to enjoy for a year. But… assuming you’re good with that, here’s a recipe for elderberry wine. as posted by Laurie Neverman on CommonSenseHome.com.10)http://commonsensehome.com/how-to-make-elderberry-wine/
Shared by Laurie Neverman, from the out-of-print book: How to Make Wine in Your Own Kitchen, on Laurie’s site CommonSenseHome.com.11)http://commonsensehome.com/how-to-make-elderberry-wine/
Elderberry Wine Recipe (Sun Extraction Method)
- 4 quarts loosely packed elderberries (be sure they are dark ripe)
- 2 quarts boiling water
- 6 cups cane sugar
- 1 cup of chopped muscat raisins (I just used standard dark raisins)
This recipe is made in stages. In stage one, you steep the elderberries in water, in stage two, you add the sugar and raisins.
Remove elderberries from stems and pack in a gallon glass jar (the type you can buy bulk pickles and olives in). Bring two quarts of water to a boil. Make sure your jar is warm (you can set it in a tub of warm water) to prevent breakage. Pour the boiling water over the elderberries. Leave a healthy inch of space at the top, because they will swell and expand.
Editor’s Note: We’d would try pouring the boiling water over the berries in a non-breakable container first, then transferring them to the glass jar once the water is cooled a bit. While the warm water tub process probably works to prevent this, it would be awful to risk losing all those elderberries! We have had the odd tempered glass measuring cup to shatter after years of not shattering when pouring in boiling water, so tend to be more cautious now.
Make a plastic liner for the metal cover (not sure how you could avoid this if you want to avoid plastic, other than using a much bigger container). Put the cover on loosely (enough to keep the bugs out, but loose enough that it can vent). Set in a sunny place outside for three days. The liquid should be bright red in color.
I set mine in a sunny window, then out on the deck in various spots, and then brought it inside at night. We have a groundhog that’s been visiting the deck at night, as I didn’t want it getting in the hooch.
After three days, strain the berries through a jelly bag (I used a flour sack towel), squeezing out as much of the liquid as possible. Pour juice back into the glass jar (I moved mine to my 1 gallon crock). Stir in the sugar, making sure it is all dissolved. Add chopped raisins. Cover loosely and keep in a warm place indoors to continue fermentation for three more weeks.
You’ll note that this recipe has no added yeast. This made me a little nervous, since wild yeast can be less reliable. Mine didn’t start bubbling right away, but I cheated a bit and used the same spoon to stir both batches of wine. (The other recipe has commercial wine yeast.) This got the fermentation going. If you don’t see bubbles within a couple of days, it’s probably safer to add commercial yeast so your wine doesn’t go “off”.
At the end of this time period, strain through several layers of cheesecloth ( a flour sack towel or old cotton t-shirt will also work). Siphon into clean, sterilized bottles. (See How to Clean and Sterilize Bottles and How to Siphon Wine.)
Cork lightly at first, or put a balloon over the top, as depicted in Laurie’s article on making dandelion wine.12)http://commonsensehome.com/bottling-the-dandelion-wine/
Editor’s Note: You might also use one of these reusable wine bottle balloon caps.
Erin Olson’s Homemade Elderberry Syrup!
Elderberry Soda – Lemonade Lacto-fermented Probiotic
Recipe from NormsFarm.com
- 1 swing-top bottle (flip-top bottles are crucial for fermenting beverages)13)http://normsfarms.com/5897-2/
- 1 32 ounce glass jar + lid (or cheesecloth, or clean kitchen towel)
- 3 cups filtered water
- ½ cup fresh juice squeezed from lemon
- ¼ cup whey or sauerkraut juice
- ½ cup raw, preferably local honey
- 2 Tablespoons Norm’s Farms Elderberry Extract
- Heat the filtered water on the stove until just gently warm enough to dissolve the honey.
- Stir in the honey until fully dissolved.
- Let the water-honey mixture cool to room temperature.
- Once cooled, stir in the fresh lemon juice and Elderberry Extract, and transfer the mixture to the glass jar.
- Cover the glass jar with cheesecloth/kitchen towel and secure with a rubber band, or a loosely fitting lid, and leave out on the counter for at least 3 days. You can let it go longer for a less sweet soda. I let mine go about 5 days. Taste it after 3 days and let it ferment until it’s only a little sweeter than you would like it to be.
- Transfer the soda to the swing-top bottle using a funnel. Close the lid tightly and store it in a cabinet for 4-7 days, “burping” it each day to let enough pressure out so it doesn’t explode. I have never had an explosion happen to me, but I know plenty who have, and it’s treacherous, hence keeping it in a cabinet.
- Taste it each day and once it’s to your liking, transfer the bottle to the refrigerator.
- You’ll want to drink this up within a couple of weeks. If you plan to store it longer, be sure to “burp” it regularly so you don’t lose all of your soda to the “geyser effect” when you do open it. Also note the longer it sits, the more tart it will become as the bacteria eat up the remaining sugars.
You will love visiting NormsFarms.com… and we’ll be publishing an interview with them soon!
Join the GardensAll Facebook Conversation on Elderberries here:
If you want more, here’s a 6 page Department of Agriculture PDF on Elderberry.14)https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_sanic4.pdf
We work hard to bring you deeply researched valid information. However, should you see any mistakes or errors in any of our content, please do let us know.
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