Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Fri, Jul 5, 2013 - 9:23pm

I want to bring back an old family tradition and raise some elderberries. I remember their unusual taste in pies, jellies, and jams. Plus, I've never tried them for winemaking but I'd like to try. Elderberries are easy to grow or forage. They like wet areas, and full sun, so take a look at their range and see if they can fit into your landscaping or nearby foraging plans. They are easy to grow, and gorgeous landscape plants The huge showy white flowers--sort of like a cross between flat tiny-flowered flat hydrangea heads and Queen Anne's Lace on woddy stems, are followed by dark black berries

The plants are very hardy (we grew them in USDA Zones 4  & 5), and because they flower in late June, the crop is seldom damaged by late spring frost. (it is however, a favorite of deer and bears so keep that in mind.) The ones around here are flowering and some are showing fruit. That's not surprising, because although they will tolerate a variety of sooils, they like the slightly acidic soile we have in SC.

Elderberries contain more phosphorus and potassium than any other temperate fruit crop. The fruit is also rich in vitamin C. It has lots of medicial uses: Black elderberry has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Some preliminary studies demonstrate that elderberry may have a measurable effect in treating the flu, alleviating allergies, and boosting overall respiratory health.

Elder is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, dissolved in wine, for rheumatism and traumatic injury.

Plant elderberries in spring, as soon as possible after they arrive from the nursery to prevent plants from drying out. Space plants 6 to 10 feet apart. Elderberries are shallow rooted, so keep them well-watered during the first season. Plants are easy to propagate from hardwood cuttings taken when plants are dormant.

Here is a video about elderberries as part of a cute and informative series on You Tube called Eat the Weeds.

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cmartenson's picture
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I am an elderberry fan

This year Becca and I became loyal fans of elderberry extract, scientifically proven to reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms if taken early in the course those illnesses, after we tried some given to us by a friend.

It works.

At least that has been our direct experience, and now any time there is even the slgihtest scratchiness in the throat, or other flu-like symptoms, we power down a few tablespoons a couple of times a day for a few days.

The extract is easy to make and involves boiling down some berries, adding honey and a bit of alcohol and storing in the fridge.

So not onlly have we sussed out the native populations of elderberry for gathering (easiest to do when the white umbrella-like flowers are sprayed across the landscape) but we've planted 8 starts around the property that are doing nicely.  Here's one:

It's just a wee plant, only a month and a half old (was a twig with roots when we got it), but seems to be doing well and will be a large-ish and attractive bush when mature.

So, combining beauty and medicinal qualities in a plant that the local birds and other animals will also cherish just fits right into our complete philosophy, which means you can count me as an elderberry fan.

jasonw's picture
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Harvest and processing

We discovered shortly after we moved into our new rental that there was a massive elderberry bush next to the house.  Last weekend my wife and kids did a big harvest and then processed all the fruit into some new tasty items to get us through the winter.

A "bush" that is about 15' tall.  The chicken and ducks love to hang out under it and wiped out all the lowest hanging fruit.  Maybe they will stay healthier for it.

From the days harvest we got 3.6 lbs of berries.  

My wife made 2 pint jars of elderberry syrup (canned the syrup to be shelf stable) and 2 quart jars of elderberry liquour using vodka.  (needs to sit for at least a month.) 

And the latest experiment is the pod of floating berries in a ancient honey wine called Tej.  Kinda like a mead, but simpler and we are trying to do a natural air born wild yeast to get the brew going.  Will see how it is doing in 5 days and if need be add some wine yeast.  Can't let a gallon of potential elderberry goodness go to waste.  Must have redundancy for better resiliency. 

Anyway - we are also big fans of elderberries and plan to add mullein leaves to the syrup for our cough suppressant and immune booster.  Definitely something to always have on hand. 


jasonw's picture
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Go Team!

Who is interested in a big foam finger?

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Amanda Witman
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Count me in, too

I planted an elderberry "twig" (such as Chris describes) near a drainage area on my old property.  Elderberries love having their feet wet, which is why you see them thriving in drainage ditches.  That little twig (planted 9 years ago) is now a thriving large bush about 8 feet tall.  There doesn't seem to be a good spot on our current property, but I haven't ruled out the possibility.  Good stuff.

sdmptww's picture
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I'm with you

I bought two "twigs" in 2011 and planted them in pots until they got big enough I wouldn't loose them on the ground.  Transplanted them last fall and boy have they grown this year.  I can't wait to start harvesting.  I love elderberries.  I plan to expand my holdings this next fall with a couple more bushes.  I'm already tasting the syrup and the wine.

Poet's picture
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Monty Elderberries...

It's so great to read about elderberries. Thank you all for sharing. Imagine if everyone grew them - even in the suburbs or in planters.

Of course, any discussion of elderberries is not complete without a nod to Monty Python...


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Dutch John
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Don't forget the flower

In the Netherlands elderberries are considered as a weed. They grow everywhere. So when in june a grown-up man is picking elderberry flowers, bypassers tend to look as if I'm nuts..... But the flower makes a great sirup and a fresh summerwine.

Recipe for the sirup: take a liter (sorry, European...) of the flowers with the twigs cut off. Slightly compressed. Boil half a liter of water and pour it over the flowers. Have it sit for 15 minutes, but keep the flowers soaked (they tend to float). Filter the mix through a cloth. Then cook the yellow water with 1 kilo sugar and a teaspoon citric acid in about 10 minutes to a sirup. Immediately fill into sterilised bottles.

We use the berries for wine and jam. When rinsing the berries, remove the unripe, poisonous floating ones. Cooking removes the little remaining poison in the ripe berries. Not every person is affected by the poison, but to be sure, you need to cook the berries.

The leaves can be use as medication, but we never experimented with that.

Regards, DJ

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1988
elderberry forage haul

We just picked a 5-gallon bucket of elderberries off the side of a logging road, near a pond. We have 12 pounds of elderberries to process tomorrow! So excted.

We are planning to make three small bottles of the tincture and the rest will be syrup.

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Wendy S. Delmater
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syrup, tinctures and ice cream

We processed the above elderberries into three half-pint jars of tinctures, plus three pint and two half-pint jars of elderberry syrup. The syrup is great on ice cream, but we plan on making elderberry ice cream with our ice cream freezer.

cmartenson's picture
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Our Elderberry Syrup Recipe

Okay, it's not 'ours' but here's the recipe we use that fends off any and all colds and flus (so far):

Elderberry Syrup


  • 10 oz dried elderberries
  • 3 oz ginger root
  • 2 oz osha root (lung tonic)*
  • 2.8 oz Oregon grape root (dried)
  • 2 c raw local honey
  • 10 c water
  • ¾ c brandy or rum

*[Becca] I do not usually add the osha as my kids hate the taste.

Cooking -

Combine all herbs and water in stainless steel pot, and simmer 45 minutes. Stir frequently.

Let cool

Strain mixture through cheesecloth or clean cotton cloth into another stainless steel pot-squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the herb mix

Add honey and brandy to the strained liquid and warm over low heat, stirring frequently

Pour syrup into glass jars and label

Note- the alcohol is added as a preservative so the syrup does not need to be refrigerated, but it should be stored in a cool, dark place


Dosing -

Take 1 Tbsp up to 3 x daily during illness. I also take a dose as soon as I begin to feel just the hint of an illness and it usually stops it completely.

All ingredients can be ordered from http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1988
Important! not an elderberry!

This article was aimed a dog owners, but the implications for elderberry foragers should be obvious, Water Hemlock is HIGHLY poisonous, likes wet feet, and looks a lot like Elderberries. If you were planning on using elderberry flowers for something like a syrup, wine, or fritters, here's an article on how to tell them apart.

the short version:

This is ELDERBERRY: usually 5 LEAVES per stem, each leaf separate.

Really good for you.


Below is WATER HEMLOCK: 7 LEAVES per stem, double-leaves closest to main stalk



For a larger picture, These are elderberries: they grow on bushes.

This is water hemlock. Not a bush.

Thrivalista's picture
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Elderberry - the number of leaflets on a leaf varies

They can have as many as 11 leaflets, with 5-9 being the usual range. Look for the single-compound  opposite (v. alternating) leaflets with finely serrated (v. coarse toothed) edges, and the flat-topped spray/umbel (v. firework) flower cluster form.

Excellent detailed comparison here:


We pressure-can the unsweetened juice in 4 ounce jars, for stronger medicinal properties and for those who need to avoid added sweeteners. The unsweetened juice can be added to a warm drink with honey for those whose palate can't handle the astringency (kids, for example.)

I credit elderberry juice with our household not having had a cold or the flu in the five years since we began using the stuff. It's one of our most important medicinal preparations.


All-In's picture
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Thanks for that, Poet.  I'm not having too much luck with my elderberry bush (maybe because I keep trying to trim it into a tree), but Monty Python always makes me laugh.



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