Enjoying Elderberries

February 15, 2006

You won’t find elderberries on display at your local market, but elderberry bushes make my list of easy growing organic fruits for the backyard gardener. Elderberries are also very attractive plants that fit well in the ornamental edible landscape.

Why Grow Elderberries

Most berries are easier to grow and less susceptible to insect damage than common tree fruits such as apples, peaches, and plums. But elderberries are even more convenient to grow than other berries because there’s less effort required to keep the plants pruned.

Elderberry plants are actually small trees, growing up to fourteen feet in height, but can be maintained at shorter heights if desired. Elderberries will grow just fine in average soils and prefer full sun but will tolerate a location with partial shade.

There are many varieties of elderberry to choose from and you should plant at least two different varieties for pollination if you wish to produce fruit. The small white edible flowers are followed by the tiny black berries that grow in large clusters and should be allowed to ripen on the plant before harvesting.

Popular Elderberry Varieties

I only have one elderberry plant growing in my garden, so it doesn’t bear fruit but it’s a variegated variety that’s worth growing just for its ornamental appearance. Variegated elderberries enhance the landscape with their colorful foliage that displays green and white or green and yellow colored leaf patterns.

There’s also an attractive variety with purple-black foliage and pink flowers called Black Beauty that will provide an unusual accent to the garden. Other great elderberry varieties for the home garden include: Sutherland, York, Blue Elder, Adams, Nova, Goldbeere, Allesso, Haschberg, and Cut Leaf Elder.

It seems like every week there’s a report of an exotic berry that’s been discovered which promises a number of health benefits. Well the elderberry can be found growing right in our own back yards, and was labeled long ago as “the medicine chest of the country people” (Ettmueller), for its history of medicinal uses.

Adding Elderberries to the Diet

I’d even wager that elderberries are pretty high in some of the same antioxidants and nutrients that put exotic fruits such as Wild Himalayan Goji Berries in the headlines of today’s health news.

Ripe black elderberries can be eaten fresh, while other traditional uses include: wine making, teas, jams, and jellies. I’ve even seen elderberry recipes for baking pies and making ice cream.

If you’d like to add a healthful organic fruit that’s easy to grow and maintain to your home garden, give a little consideration to planting a pair of elderberries in your backyard.

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  • lucy

    Don’t forget elderberry flower fritters served with a dusting of powdered sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Dip the umbels into a light fritter batter then fry in 1/4 inch of canola oil (clip the stems as they fry and discard). Such a delicate flavor!

  • Thank you for sharing this information. Just found out about how elderberries can improve our health.

  • Felicity

    I’ve heard that certain types of elderberry can be poisonous if eaten raw, (and some even after cooking), can you tell me if this is true?
    Thanks for the info!!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Felicity, I have heard that there is a “Red Elderberry” variety that must be cooked before using. The black elderberry varieties are okay to eat raw. But as with any wild or ornamental edible plant don’t eat it if you’re not sure about its identity and that it’s safe to eat! You can purchase edible elderberry plants from fruit tree nurseries or companies that specialize in supplying ornamental edible fruits and berries.

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  • Elderberries are high in vitamins A and C and a handful make a great addition to apple pie. They are better eaten cooked than raw due to high levels of tannins. Used as a diuretic and to promote sweating so can be useful as a cold remedy. However the best think to do with Elder is to make Elderflower cordial – a wondefully tart and refreshing drink on a hot day.

  • Why is it my favorite little berry has to be so expensive?? I need a berry farm!

  • Julie

    Thanks for the great info. However, elderberries should NEVER be eaten fresh. They must be boiled or cooked before consumption. They are otherwise TOXIC.

  • IElizabeth

    I need advise on how to start selling elderberries fruits. I do have a lot of them around where I live that when they riped I don’t want them to waste away. Please urgent advice is needed on what company can buy them or what market to take them to.

  • Kenny Point

    Not sure how much of a market there is for fresh elderberries but have you considered processing them into a product that you can sell? Elderberry cough syrup, jams, medicinal extracts, wine, etc.?

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