The Delicious Elderberry

The Delicious Elderberry

Elderberries (Sambucus sp.) are best known for their berries, which are made into delicious jellies, pies, syrups, and wines. Elderberries have been receiving a lot of attention recently due to their extremely high vitamin C content.

Elderberries are also an important summer food source for many wildlife species, including deer, squirrels, and many species of game and song birds. In California, elderberries are a vital species for the endangered Valley elderberry longhorn beetle.

In addition to their delicious berries, Elders have lovely white blossoms (also edible) in spring. Though somewhat too gangly and prone to suckering for a formal landscape, elderberries make attractive additions to naturalistic landscapes, hedgerows, and similar plantings.

Elder bark, leaves, and roots were used medicinally by American Indian tribes. However, these parts are poisonous and should only be used by an experienced herbalist.

There are two main elderberry species native to North America:

  • American elder (Sambucus canadensis)
  • Red elder (Sambucus racemosa)

Sambucus canadensis is sometimes listed as a subspecies of the Common Elder or Black Elder (Sambucus nigra), a native of Eurasia. To add to the taxonomic confusion, there are several other native elderberry species that are listed sometimes as separate species, sometimes as subspecies of Sambucus nigra, and sometimes as subspecies of Sambucus canadensis. These include Blue Elder (Sambucus cerulea), Florida Elder (Sambucus simpsonii), Mexican Elder (Sambucus mexicana), and others.

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