Growth: 4-12 ft.
Culture: Sun to partial shade; moist area w/good drainage
Flowers: White, May blooms
Fruits: Dark purple/black berries early September
Hardy: Zones 3-9 (Franklin County is Zone 6)
Native - Wildlife
Selected by the International Herb Association, Sambucus spp. [SAM-boo-cus], or Elderberry, is the Herb of the Year™ for 2013. This is a description of Sambucus nigra L. ssp. Canadensis – the American Black Elderberry. The common name "elder" is from the Anglo-Saxon "ellen," meaning fire-kindler, most likely referring to the dry, pithy stems.
This perennial shrub or tree is native to the lower 48 states as well as Canada and is hardy across all zones in North America.
The shrub grows 4-12 ft. with fragrant white flowers in spring and blue to black-purple berries in late summer. This is a good, mid-size plant and excellent as a hedgerow or in a property border. This plant is often used in riparian (stream or river bank or pond edges) restoration.
It tolerates poor soil, likes sun to partial sun and does well in moist areas but with good drainage. It is shallow rooted and gardeners should use care when weeding under it. Propagation is best through seed germination but grafting and layering are also used.
Elderberry’s wildlife habit value includes food for over 50 species of songbirds and upland game birds. It provides nesting cover for small birds and the flowers provide nectar for pollinators.
Squirrels, bears and other browsers eat the berries while deer, elk and moose will browse the stem and foliage. However, the USDA notes that new growth of American elder contains a glucoside that can be fatal to livestock.
Elderberry is used in over-the-counter medicines, primarily to boost the immune system and it is a significant source of both vitamins A and C. The berries are also used as dye and food colorants.
Elderberry is cultivated commercially for the fruit. The berries are used in cooking with the most popular uses being elderberry wine, juice and syrup along with pies and candy.
Berries are harvested in late August and early September when they are dark purple. The red berries of other species are toxic and should not be eaten. Full clusters of berries are harvested and removed from the stems. If not used immediately, they should be stored in a cool dry area.
The wood from the elder plant is hard and has been used for combs, spindles and wooden pegs. The hollow stems are used for flutes and arrow shafts while the pith makes good fire tinder.
Elderberry is an excellent native plant to add to your landscape. Examples can be seen in the Native Plant demonstration garden at the Franklin County Extension Service.