To grow elderberries in your yard is to have easy access to a possible natural remedy for cold and flu symptoms.
Though often perceived by many as “food for the birds” these somewhat strange berry clusters contain great amounts of antioxidants, vitamin C, and other flavonoids that appear to make them a powerful immune system booster.
In addition to their medicinal properties, elderberries are also a tasty treat. The ripe berries have a sweet-tart flavor that is delicious used in jams, jellies, or pies.
One important thing to know. You CANNOT ingest raw elderberries. You must cook them long and slow before consumption, due to toxins in the raw form.
NOTE: We are not doctors or pharmacists. Before you begin any supplementation program, please check with a health care provider due to possible drug interactions, allergies, or other adverse events. We are gardeners who are sharing our research about the black elder tree and its fruit and are not qualified to provide medical advice.
Frequently Asked Questions About How to Grow Elderberries
To answer some of the most frequently asked questions about elderberries, here are a few things you should know.
What are elderberries?
Elderberries are tiny dark blue-purple fruits of the Sambucus plant. You might also find it labeled as, “black elder tree.”
There are several varieties of this flowering tree, however, Sambucus nigra (also known as European elderberry) and Sambucus canadensis (American elderberry) are the most commonly cultivated in landscapes and gardens.
Is sambucol an elderberry?
Yes, Sambucol is an elderberry extract that’s effective in reducing the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms. It’s made from black elderberries, which are a richer source of anthocyanins than red or blue elderberries.
Are elderberries hard to grow?
Elderberries are easy to grow and care for as long as you offer them the right growing conditions. They thrive in consistently moist, humusy, well-draining soils with a slightly acidic pH level (5.5-6.5), and can tolerate temporarily wet areas and poor soils, except for one thing—drought.
Offer full sun for the best of blooms and fruiting. Part shade is best if you’re particularly growing the shrubs for aesthetic purposes.
Plant in early spring after the threat of frost (in your area) has passed.
Where do the best elderberries grow?
Native to North America, elderberries grow in a variety of conditions and climates; however, they’re especially hardy to USDA zones 3-9, where they flower and fruit best. To successfully grow elderberries, you need to get it right at planting!
How to plant and care for elderberries:
- Begin by amending the soil with compost to help improve drainage, boost nutrient levels, and moisture retention.
- Ensure a spacing of six to ten feet apart to allow for adequate ventilation when the plants are fully grown.
- Though most varieties self-fruit, consider planting another cultivar nearby (within 50-60 feet) to encourage cross-pollination.
- Irrigate thoroughly immediately after planting, and consistently afterward—especially during the first year—to help support the shrubs’ shallow roots.
- Fertilize yearly in early spring using a granular fertilizer meant for trees and shrubs.
- Harvest the flowers in early spring then the berries in early fall or late summer—when they ripen.
How long does it take an elderberry tree to grow?
Elderberry bushes are moderately fast growers, growing up to six to twelve feet in the first few years post-planting.
How long does it take for an elderberry bush to produce fruit? How long to grow elderberries?
Elderberries take two or three years to fully fruit even though a few berries may appear on the plants in the first year of planting.
Can you eat raw elderberries?
Raw elderberries contain cyanide and lectin—toxic substances—that when ingested can lead to diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Cooking the berries helps eliminate these substances.
Who should not take elderberry?
- People who are allergic to the honeysuckle family should not take elderberry.
- Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding should also consult their doctor before taking elderberry.
- Elderberry may interact with certain medications, so it’s best to consult your doctor before taking it.
Can you eat red elderberry?
No! Red berries contain considerably higher amounts of cyanogenic glycosides than black elderberries and can cause cyanide poisoning if consumed in large quantities. It’s not recommended to eat any berries from the plant until they are cooked, as this will break down the cyanogenic glycosides into harmless compounds.
How do you remove cyanide from elderberries?
- The easiest way to detoxify elderberries is to soak them in water for twelve hours.
- The cyanide will leach out into the water and can be discarded.
- Alternatively, you can boil the berries for 15 to 25 minutes and then discard the water.
- This process can be repeated if necessary.
Can you use blue elderberries for syrup?
Yes. Blue elderberries make a delicious syrup that you can use in a variety of ways including adding it to seltzer or sparkling water for a refreshing drink, using it as a pancake or waffle topping, mixing it into yogurt or oatmeal, or even drizzling over ice cream or cake.
What do you do with an abundance of elderberries?
- If you have an abundance of elderberries, you can cook them and then freeze the cooked berries for later use.
- You can also make elderberry jam, jelly, or syrup and can these for long-term storage.
- Elderberries can also be dried and used in teas or as a decoration.
How do you strain elderberry?
- To strain elderberry, you will need a fine-mesh strainer.
- Place the strainer over a bowl and pour the cooked berries into the strainer.
- Use a spoon to press the berries through the strainer. Discard the seeds and pulp.
How do I prepare elderberry for consumption?
- You can either cook or dry the elderberries for consumption.
- To cook, simply add the fresh or frozen berries to a saucepan with water and simmer for about 20 minutes.
- To dry, spread the berries out on a baking sheet and bake at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for about 4 hours.
- Once cooled, store in an airtight container.
Does elderberry syrup really work?
There is limited scientific evidence to support the use of elderberry syrup in treating cold and flu symptoms. However, many people report that it helps to reduce the severity and duration of their symptoms.
- To make elderberry syrup, start by cooking 1 cup of elderberries in 2 cups of water for about 15 minutes. Strain the berries and discard the water.
- Add 1/2 cup of honey to the cooked berries and mix well.
- Transfer the syrup into a sterilized jar and store it in the fridge. Take 1-2 tablespoons of syrup daily to help reduce cold and flu symptoms.
- You can also purchase pre-made elderberry syrups from your local health food store.
Can you boil elderberries twice?
Yes, but of course for a less intense flavor. The second boil will also help to remove any residual cyanide from the berries.
Nine Practical Reasons to Grow Elderberries
- You don’t need a lot of space to grow elderberries. They grow well in small spaces and also thrive in containers.
- Elderberries are relatively low maintenance. Once they’re established, they don’t require a lot of care.
- Elderberries are drought tolerant and can grow in a variety of soil types.
- They’re also pest and disease resistant.
- Elderberries are a good source of vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber.
- They can be used to make jams, jellies, syrups, wines, and ciders.
- Elderberries are a good source of nutrition for both humans and animals.
- You can use the leaves and flowers of the plant to make teas and tinctures.
- Elderberries can be used medicinally to treat a variety of ailments.
The Takeaway: Grow Elderberries for Easy Care Foliage and Potential Health Benefits
If you are looking for a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant fruit thrives in a variety of soil types, elderberries may be the perfect choice for you.
Elderberries are also a good source of antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber. You may like growing elderberries to make jams, jellies, syrups, wines, and ciders. So not only do they taste great, but they’re also good for you.
And if that isn’t enough incentive to grow elderberries in your garden, consider this: they are also a good source of nutrition for both humans and animals.
What more could you ask for? Why not grow elderberries in your yard?