Unusual Fruits, Part 2: Elderberries (with Elderberry Syrup Recipe)

| 8/19/2015 10:49:00 AM

Tags: elderberries, fruit, Jo Ann Gardner, New York,


Click here to read Part 1: "What to Do with Gooseberries"

Seldom has a neglected shrub risen so fast in public esteem as the humble American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis or S. nigra subsp. canadensis). It wasn’t too long ago that it was dismissed as a weedy plant of roadsides and barnyards. But that perception has changed dramatically. This new interest in the elderberry owes much to introductions that bear larger fruits or stunning ornamental foliage or flowers on improved forms that are suited to garden settings such as the “edible landscape.”

Its health benefits are a definite plus with health-conscious gardeners and cooks. To cap its exalted position, it was designated the 2013 Herb of the Year by the International Herb Association for its long history as a useful plant.

In the Wild

American elderberries form thickets from Nova Scotia south to Florida, and west to Manitoba and Texas.  Plants grow up to 15 feet tall in wet or dry soil, their branches sprouting deeply cut, serrated-edged green leaves that are shed in the fall. By mid to late June, the shrub’s very twiggy branches bear tiny cream-colored, musk-scented florets in large clusters to which butterflies are attracted. Ripe berries on purplish stems in late summer, are dark purple, and are quickly eaten by birds if not picked.

The roots, green stems, leaves and unripe fruits contain powerful alkaloids and cyanide-like glycosides which could be toxic if ingested; the red berries of the earlier bearing native S. racemosa are poisonous and should never be eaten.

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