Elderberries Identification and uses

Don’t think that there would be any uses for the foul-smelling elderberry? Believe it or not, the elderberry has many uses and has been used by First Nations peoples of North America for centuries. As you may already know, elderberry trees are not a single species, as there are approximately 30 different species of elderberries that thrive throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Many elderberries are endemic to North America, and are often used to complement garden landscapes. In the past, Native peoples of North America used elderberries both for nourishment and medicinal purposes.

“The genus is native to temperate to subtropical regions of both the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere; the genus is more widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, with Southern Hemisphere occurrence restricted to parts of Australasia and South America.” (Source, Wikipedia)

Deciduous shrubs foul smelling leaves and flowers. Branches are usually connected directly to the base. Groups of 20 red berries form in clusters. Branches have sponge-filled centres. Lifespan of 80 to 100 years. Occasionally as tall as 15 meters, but very rarely. See image below.


Food Uses:
Generally, raw elderberries are considered inedible, and cooked berries are edible. Cooking destroys the foul smells as well as the toxins. Today, elderberries are made into jams, jellies, syrups, preserves, and wines, including champagne. Both flowers and berries can be made into elderberry wine, and in Hungary an elderberry brandy is apparently produced (however, this is very tedious, consider that one requires 50 kg of fruit to produce 1 litre of brandy).

Medicinal uses:
Elderberry flower tea can be used to stimulate perspiration and is also used as a laxative. There is a possible connection between elderberry compounds and protection against the avian flu virus.

Other Uses:
The hollow, sponge like centers of the elderberry can be carved out, and the remaining straw can become the barrel in a Popgun. Other uses of the wood are limited considering the thinness and softness of the wood.

The stems, bark, leaves and roots contain poisonous cyanide-producing glycosides, especially when fresh. The ripe fruits and flowers are edible, especially in the purple species of elderberry, and after cooking. Do not take elderberry products if you are sensitive to other wild plant compounds. Remember that this article is no way is intended to offer medical advice; it is merely an interesting resource for those who would like to become more familiar with some useful plants.