Sambucus nigra is a medium sized shrub native to Northern America and Europe which grows along streams and riverbanks. Wild plants can grow up to 6-12 feet tall, and spread to form thickets through cane growth. Plant leaves, wood, flowers, and fruit have long been used by native cultures for food: fresh, dried, and preserved, wines and other drinks, medicines, and ceremonial protection from witches!
Fruits of elderberry are picked after they turn a deep purple-black and are used to produce juices, wines and cordials, in pies, jams, and sauces, and have long been valued for medicinal purposes. Elderberries contain high levels of vitamins and antioxidants, and elderberry juice and concentrate are marketed as nutraceuticals.
Blooming in mid June, elderberry flowers can be sold fresh as cutflowers, eaten as garnishes, added for flavor to drinks, used in wine and baked products, or fried in batter. The elderberries appear in large panicles (clusters) and are easily hand harvested over a 3 week period between late July and early September. Fruits ripen earlier on older canes, and later on the current season’s shoots. Fruit is generally hand-harvested by snipping the entire panicle and can be used fresh or frozen. Berries may be removed from the panicle by freezing the entire panicle and shaking off the fruit. The berries may then be refrozen and processed as needed.
Elderberries should be grown in the sun, and prefer heavy loam or moist sandy soils with a pH in the 5.5-6.5 range. When planting in rows, plants are often set 3-5 feet apart to grow into a hedgerow, in rows 10 feet apart to provide access. Canes are produced every year, and spent canes should be removed each fall after harvest, leaving 6-8 canes per plant for the next summer’s production. Renewing the shoots in this manner should produce larger fruit clusters on younger stronger growth, and result in a manageable shrub 5-7 feet in height. Two or more varieties planted in the vicinity can ensure adequate pollination.
Birds and pests:
Birds and Japanese beetles may be pests, feeding on foliage and berries.
Great Northern Berry plants are sold at Wayside Farm in North Sandwich, N.H. Quantities of some varieties are limited and are subject to current availabilities.
Sambucus nigra (elderberry)
Large dark blue flavorful berries. The 6-8’ tall deciduous shrub does well in full to partial sun with a hardiness to zone 4. Elderberries are widely known for their health-giving properties. The berries contain antioxidants and flavinoids considered to be antiviral with immune-building benefits and have very high anthocyanin content.
Sambucus nigra (elderberry)
A medium vigor, upright growing bush that will reach 5-7 feet in height. Developed in Denmark, and prized as a very productive cultivar for juice production. Large, high quality flowers. Freely suckering, with good plant size, shape and vigor. Elderberry syrup is sold to treat colds, coughs and other upper respiratory symptoms. Elderberries can be made into jam, jelly, wine, juice or pies.
Steven A. McKay, Extension Educator, Columbia County Cooperative Extension, Hudson, NY
For some information on the historical, herbal, medicinal, and magical uses of elderberry: A Modern Herbal Elder
Contact Patrick Byers, Patrick Byers, Regional Horticulture Specialist,
University of Missouri Extension-Greene County Byerspl@missouri.edu for info about elderberry production in Missouri