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Sambucus Canadensis and Sambucus Nigra, the Edible Elderberries

A.K.A. American Elderberry and Black Elderberry.

These common elderberries are the best edible elderberry species.

Elderberry plants are both ornamental and functional. It’s no wonder that nurseries are cultivating patented and increasingly beautiful versions of this amazing wild shrub. In this article we’re focusing on common elderberry as it is the most functional and beneficial plant with edible berries and flowers.

Genus: Sambucus
Species: Canadensis and Nigra

The American or common elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, and European or black elderberry, sambucus nigra, are important plants. These highly nutritious berries and flowers are so potent for boosting the immune system, that there are many over-the-counter medications named after this genus of plants.

The canadensis, is a native North American shrub, growing wild in the northeast and northwestern states. The ripened berries are a deep purple-tinged black, held clustered by a lovely contrasting violet colored stem.

The elderberry shrub is increasingly cultivated as a living edible hedge, landscaped into permaculture yards. As a common ornamental shrub, elderberry brings wonderful nutritional and medicinal value from the elderberries and elderflowers. 1)

Where to Buy Elderberries

Now if you don’t have elderberries in your yard or growing wild in your area, don’t worry. You can buy elderberry plants to plant, and you can also find berries and flowers online.

We got our elderberry plants from a local nursery and also from You can also order them through Amazon:

Pictured below are a few of our elderberries from this year’s harvest. They ripen in July and August in zone 7b, and the flowers continue blooming during the first ripening of berries, but by late July and August, it’s just berries, and lots of them!


As you can see from our photo here, the elderberries are tiny, so it takes some time to cull them from the stems and they’re also a bit delicate. The fastest way we’ve found to get them off the stems quickly and without crushing is to freeze them on the stem. Once they’re frozen, it’s easier to roll them off the stems without damaging the tender berries.

This is especially beneficial if you cannot process the berries right away into whatever delectable or medicinal concoctions you’ll be making.

Harvest elderberries in July and August
You can then defrost and to use in your favorite, including jams, jellies, syrups, juices, extracts, and baked goods. Please share your harvesting tips with us and we will add them to this article to help folks. You can submit via email, comments or Facebook.

Do NOT Eat the Stems, Roots, Green Berries or Red Elderberries!

The stems, leaves and roots of the Black Elder, sambucus nigra, are all poisonous to humans, as are the seeds of the sambucus racemosa, red elderberries if eaten raw.2)


You can eat the dark ripe berries and flowers of the sambucus canadensis and sambucus nigra.


  • DO NOT  EAT the roots, leaves or stems of any elderberry plants
  • DO NOT EAT the green, unripened elderberries
  • DO NOT EAT the raw red berries of the sambucus racemosa.
unripened elderberries
Do NOT eat the green, unripened elderberries.
Poisonous red elderberries
DO NOT EAT Red-elderberries – sambucus racemosa. Image by James Gaither on Flickr

The green unripened berries or the ripened red variety of elderberries contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside, and should never be ingested raw. Some say the young shoots are edible, but unless you’re dying of starvation, it’s not worth the risk of consuming potentially toxic portions.


I find it interesting that the majority of the plant can be toxic, and yet the berries of the edible sambucus species: canadensis and nigra, are highly nutritious. But interestingly, the roots, stems and leaves of elderberry plants also have medicinal benefit, externally applied.

The small black berries of the sambucus canadensis are picked and eaten raw or dried and should never be picked and eaten green. The red elderberries should not be eaten raw either, unless you’re knowledgeable on how to consume them and separate out the cyanide laced seeds. These are best used for the juice alone, and/or cooked, where the cooking apparently burns of the toxicity content of the berries.2)

Many people say they’ve eaten the elderberry fruits and seeds all their lives with no ill effect. However, whenever these things are shared, it’s unclear which varieties they’re speaking to, so it’s best to be safe than sorry. If you plan to consume the elderberry fruit without separating it from the seed, consult with experts first, such as your local ag extension office to be sure you’re eating the safe variety and for specific information on how to prepare them.

Sambucus canadensis and Nigra elderberries, are safe to eat when ripe.

RIpe sambucus canadensis elderberries are safe to eat. Image by

Meanwhile, if you do hiking or camping and are into survival foods in the wild, elderberry is a good one to know and be able to identify.

There are many health benefits to elderberries, so let’s review those next. If you don’t have fresh elderberries on hand, you can still make your own concoctions with dried elderberries.

Elderberry Nutrients

Nutrient dense elderberries from the honeysuckle family, are considered a superfood like blueberries, due to their high concentration of antioxidants.

Elderberries contain more vitamin C than oranges or tomatoes, and three times the protein of blueberries.

They also have beneficial amounts of Vitamin A, calcium, thiamine and niacin.


One cup of elderberries contains (percentage or RDA):

  • Vitamin C – 87%
  • Vitamin A – 17%
  • Iron -13%
  • Calcium – 6%
  • Vitamin B6 – 17%
  • Potassium – 12%
  •  Vitamin B1 – 7%

Source: MomPrepares.com2)

Health Benefits of Elderberries

(NOTE: Health benefits of elderflowers are covered further below).

Excerpted from

  • Digestive aid, high in fiber
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Cardiovascular Protection
  • Respiratory system  expectorant, plus soothes inflammation and irritation
  • Boosts immunity antibacterial, anti-infectious, antioxidant and immune strengthening
  • Regulates insulin and glucose levels beneficial for diabetes
  • Anti-inflammatory, for painful joints, arthritis and sore muscles
  • Bones – Essential minerals strengthen bones and induce new growth
  • Skin bioflavonoids and antioxidants plus high vitamin A helps keep skin youthful

Source: OrganicFacts.net3)


Next is a video showing how to identify, pick and harvest elderberries, followed by recipes for elderberry syrup.

Identifying, Harvesting, Eating and Using Elderberries

By Green Deane of 4)

Green Deane talks about both black and red elderberries, how to identify, harvest and eat them and also what to avoid.

This is important to help be sure you are safe when identifying elderberry in the wild, so tune in to see which elderberries you can eat and which you should definitely avoid.


Once you’ve fresh berries, you’ll be wanting to find recipes for them.

Which Elderberries Can You Eat?

WARNING: Do not eat any of the elderberry wood, leaves or green berries, and don’t eat the seeds of the red elderberries.4) (I now we’re being redundant here, but it’s important enough to be sure you didn’t scroll past it and miss it earlier.

For more on growing elderberries, for yourself or for a business, you may enjoy this article and interview with Roger Lendhardt of Norm’s Elderberry Farm.

One of our favorite traditional and medicinal herbal experts is Rosemary Gladstar. In this video, Rosemary gives a great summary of all things elderberry.

In my family, we have three favorite ways to enjoy elderberries.

Our Favorites:

Next are a few recipes to get your taste buds primed and ready. After that, we have more information on the amazing elderflowers, which are just as phenomenal

learn about the amazing and healing properties of elderflowers after the recipes.

York or Adams elderberries and elderflowers in the GardensAll landscape.

Elderberry Recipes

Now for some recipes using elderberries! Yum!!


Elderberry pie

Recipe from


8 Servings

  • 4 cups elderberries
  • 11cups sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons flour (we use gluten free flour)
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • pastry for a double-crust 9-inch pie (we use gluten free pie crusts)


  1. Combine berries, sugar, flour, and lemon juice in a medium sauce pan.
  2. Heat mixture until it just starts to boil, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Spread bottom crust in a 9 inch pie pan.
  6. Spread berry mixture in pie shell.
  7. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.
  8. Dot butter on top.
  9. Put top crust on and seal edges.
  10. Poke several vent holes in top crust.
  11. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving pie in oven, and bake for 30 minutes longer.

Next: Elderberry Dumplings recipe.


Elderberry Dumplings

Recipe from


2 cups berries
3/4 cup sugar (to avoid refined sugar, we substitute with half as much maple syrup, honey)
1 Tbs flour (we use gluten free flour)
2 Tbs lemon juice
3/4 cup water

Combine all the ingredients, heat gently, and keep them warm while you make the dumplings.


3/4 cup flour, sifted (we use gluten free flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon peel, grated
1/4 cup milk
1 egg

Add the other dry ingredients to the sifted and measured flour. Mix the milk and the egg in a small bowl and stir them into the flour combination until the dough is just blended. Now pour the hot berry mixture into a casserole and drop in small spoonfuls of the dumpling batter. Bake the dish at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes until the pastry balls are lightly browned. Serve the dessert warm with cream or vanilla ice cream.
Recipe from Mother Earth News4)
Next: The ever popular elderberry syrup recipe!

Elderberry Syrup

1/2 cup dried or 1 cup fresh Elder Berries
3 cups filtered water
2 -3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Optional: 1 slice of fresh ginger or a pinch of dried ginger
After the syrup has cooled, add 1 cup local, natural, unfiltered honey.

See more at the source of this recipe:
Back to Basics Gal

You’ll find other helpful videos on YouTube, but here are a few to get you started.

How to Make Elderberry Syrup

A mouthwatering video on how to make Elderberry syrup, that makes you want to try some right away! A wonderful tasting syrup that has been used over the years as a treatment for cold and flu, and as a preventative.

If you don’t have access to fresh elderberries, you can actually use dried elderberries, available from Amazon.

One of our GardensAll community members, Laura LaChance Stubbs shared her elderberry photos and juice-making information.

Laura LaChance Stubbs says:
This morning I picked my first batch of elderberries, before the birds get them all. I took them off the stems, ( forgot how long that takes lol) I rinse them in water and a little vinegar to clean and get any bugs off. So I got 12 cups of berries, steaming the juice out and as you see it’s running. Grapes will be done next month.

Make sure they’re about 20 feet apart. I haven’t done anything special to mine. They’re about 6 yrs old. Producing a lot of babies this year, so I think next year I’ll transplant a few.

I’ve never cut it back, but have taken out old dead branches, although there haven’t been many. I’m no expert. I’m just a back yard gardener , and I google everything .

elderberry bush with berries
Large sambucus canadensis elderberry bush – image by Laura LaChance Stubbs
Ripe sambucus canadensis elderberries
Large sambucus canadensis elderberry bush – image by Laura LaChance Stubbs
harvested elderberries
Sambucus canadensis elderberry harvest – image by Laura LaChance Stubbs


Laura is using a juice steamer to extract the juice from the berries.

Making elderberry juice from sambucus canadensis elderberries. Image by Laura LaChance Stubbs

Juice steamers function like this schematic from Cook N Home on Amazon:

Laura LaChance Stubbs continues:
I’m in Zone 5, Maine. Elderberries are ripening. I’ll be selling 100% juice in quart jars for $10. I’ll be dehydrating some and of course jelly and cough syrup. This is my favorite thing to harvest!

If you’re interested in learning more about growing elderberries for profit as a business, you can check out an interview and article on our sister site,

For more on making elderberry syrup using dried elderberries, you may enjoy this video from the Back to Basics Gal.

Syrup jars on Amazon

Elderflower Blossoms – Identifying, Harvesting, Drying and Preparing Elderberry Flowers

Did you know that the flavor from elderflowers actually comes from the pollen in the elderflowers?

I’m conflicted about elderflower tea. My dilemma is that the flowers make lovely tea and other recipes, but if we harvest the flowers that prevents that cluster from becoming berries. However, there are many reasons to also harvest the flowers.

Beyond delectable edibles that can be made, elderflowers are also very nutritious.

Nutritional Benefits of Elderflowers

Elderflowers are beautiful, layered lacy sprays of cream colored flowers, that pack as much a nutritional punch as the elderberries.

Health Benefits of Elderberry Flowers

That’s quite an amazing list!!


How to Take Elderflower

Elderflowers can be consumed raw and fresh in food or tea or by itself, or dried for food storage and later use. Always avoid consuming the leaves, twigs, and roots as they’re are toxic and can lead to the build up of poisonous cyanide in the body.

All but the black elderberries contain cyanide and should not be consumed raw. Some people say they consume the black variety of elderberries raw and other say it should be cooked prior to avoid nausea and other stomach and intestinal problems.

Elderflower Supplements

Elderflower supplements are available alone or in combination with other herbs. Supplements can be found as dried and cut flowers, in tea bags, in tinctures and concentrates, and in pills and capsules.

Tune into this brief video for more on how to identify harvest and use Elderflowers, fresh or dried.



Adams or York elderflowers and elderberries in the GardensAll landscape.

NOW… did “elderberry” trigger for you the old BBC Monty Python TV show and this quote? “Your mother was a…. and your father was a….?

Grow elderberry… stay healthy!

Disclaimer: No information on this website is intended to be or replace medical advice. This information is from a combination of folklore and traditional remedies, researched information and even studies, however, no such compilation of information here can be construed as medical advice. Always use good judgement and seek proper medical attention and guidance.

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