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Elderberry Plants And Medicinal Uses For the Elderberry

On a vacation in Madrid after a few encounters with Gypsies, I had an occasion to sip some homemade Elderberry wine with some elderly grandparents who were entertaining us via a friend of a friend.  That afternoon, I learned from them that local Gypsies have a profound amount of  respect for the elderberry tree, which are actually bushes, at least here in the United States.  Our hosts always bought their elderberry wine from a neighbor Gypsy family and offered it to us knowing that both of us had contracted colds on the flight over to Spain.

Medicinal Uses the Elderberry

For those of you who don’t know it, elderberry flowers are well-known for being beneficial in alleviating the thirst from fevers when prepared as a tea.  I knew this prior to our vacation, solely from my association with my maternal great-grandfather and my own grandmother, the first being a Cajun faith healer ,and the latter being a horticulturalist and practitioner of herbal medicines (strictly for family healing).  

Among it’s healing properties, aside from fever, the elderberry flowers are also known for:

  • Being helpful for coughs and colds (when boiled with crab apples and blackberry juice and drank)
  • Calming nerves (via a tea)
  • Inducing sleep (via a tea)
  • Eyewash for sore and tired eyes (via an infusion and compress)
  • Relieving poultice for sprains and burns (cooked with unsalted lard until all the juice from the flowers are absorbed)
  • Additionally, the green berries stewed in camphorated oil makes a great healing ointment to be rubbed on the chest and throat when plagued with coughs and colds. 

One scientific fact about the elderberry is that not only a natural healing plant when someone is already ill, but it is one of the rare plants in terms of being a preventive . One of the most interesting facts about the elderberry plant in modern times, is that despite being a medicinal plant for hundreds and hundreds of years, it has recently been discovered an effective plant for treating new viruses, such as the H1N1 flu.

Of course, it’s no secret that elderberries are also good for:

  • Bird habitats
  • Butterfly habitat
  • Elderberry wine
  • Elderberry jams and jellies
  • Elder berry pies
  • Elderberry syrups
  • Elderberry relishes
  • Elderflower cordials and liqueurs
  • Flower arrangements (flowers, fruits, and lacy foliage)
  • Flutes
  • Watch making tools

Are Elderberries Poisonous?

That said, one of the most important things everyone needs to know is that humans should never eat the elderberry fruit raw.  Why?  Because they are mildly poisonous.  While they won’t kill you, they will make you feel quite nauseously ill and you will probably throw up.  Moreover, any green part on the elderberry or elder plants is definitely not for human consumption, as the leaves, etc. are poisonous.  Leaves, roots, twigs, stems, and even the berries can be toxic.  Be aware that red elderberries are not edible even though the flowers are.

Elderberry Plants

Elderberry, Sambucus nigra (common names: Black Elderberry, Blue Elderberry, Red Elderberry, Black Elder, Red Elder); Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa ; and additionally other varieties in Australia, Mexico, parts of South America, and Southeastern Asia.  Additionally, there are varieties of Dwarf Elderberries, which while Elder plants are a variety that is herbaceous.

All varieties of elderberries are flowering shrubs or small trees.  Black elderberries are native to both all of North America and to several countries in Europe.  Black elderberry varieties have bluish black berries and are considered among the sweetest of elderberry species in terms of taste.

Growing Elderberry Shrubs and Trees

  • Acidity requirements:  5.5 to 6.5 ph
  • Be sure to water well during the first and second year after planting
  • Choose well-drained but damp soil
  • Elderberry plants will not flower or berry until the third year
  • Preferred growing site should be in full sun (however, the plant will tolerate some shade).
  • Propagate via cuttings, suckers, or from rootstock
  • Prune after the third year of planting, and each year thereafter

Harvesting Elder Flowers and Elderberries


  • Pick in the spring when the buds are newly opened
  • Do not pick all of the flowers on any bush to encourage wildlife habitat, bee, and butterfly habitat


  • Elderberries can be picked from late summer to fall (depending on weather and location)
  • Pick by the cluster but be sure to leave some clusters for the rest of Mother Nature’s family since they are an important food source for hungry birds during winter

If You’d Like To Know More About Elderberries!

Common Elderberry

Growing Elderberries

Making Elderberry Wine

Elderberry As A Medicinal Plant