Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

Elderberry, or Sambucus canadensis, is a prolific fruiting shrub or small tree. Flowers and fruit appear simultaneously throughout the spring and summer. The white flower clusters are 8-10 inches across and can be made into elderflower fritters. Just pick entire flower clusters, dip in batter, and fry. Dried flowers can also be made into a tea.
The blooms are quickly followed by the fruit, which turns a dark purple-black color when ripe. The fruit can be eaten dried, or cooked into jams, jellies, pies, or wine. Eating large quantities of fresh fruit is not advised due to small amounts of poisonous alkaloids. Cooking destroys these alkaloids. The fruit is not only good, it is good for you. Elderberries contain more vitamin C per unit weight than oranges.
The ripe fruit attracts more than 50 different kinds of birds, so count on sharing a portion of your crop with them. The birds spread seeds wherever they go, and this plant can be found growing wild in most rural parts of its range.
Elderberries also spread by root suckers, and can become quite aggressive if allowed to roam freely. They perform well in mixed shrubby borders, or along fence-rows, where suckers will not be a problem. Plants grow 12-15 feet tall with multiple trunks or stems. Twigs have a distinctive warty appearance, and older trunks have deeply furrowed bark.

Elderberry is native to the eastern half of North America, ranging from USDA Zones 3-11. In most of its range, the pinnately compound leaves are deciduous, but in Zones 9-11, the plant is evergreen. It grows in full to part sun, and prefers moist soil, but is also very drought-tolerant. Propagation is by seeds, stem cuttings or sections of the root.

1 comment:

lotusleaf said...

I have a similar plant with identical flowers and berries, but Nobody knows if the berries are edible, and I am too scared to experiment!