Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) have surged in popularity for their unique taste in jams, jellies, juices and pies. Some people have gone one step further and use them in winemaking. Others have discovered that they are fabulous to use as a natural color in food products. Not only does this member of the honeysuckle family grow in the wild, many choose to propagate elderberry as an ornamental shrub.
There is no surprise that this deciduous bush attracts birds and butterflies because it produces a plethora of white umbel flowers that transform into dark purple fruit later in the summer. The fruit grows in drooping clusters and each berry grows to about a pea size. Although the flowers and berries are edible all other parts of this bush are poisonous containing toxic calcium oxalate crystals.
Growing Elderberry Shrubs
In the right location, elderberry grows quickly. Mature shrubs can easily spread 8 – 12’. They prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade.
Elderberry is a hardy shrub that is seldom damaged by late spring frost. It flourishes in growing zone 4 but also grows in zones 3-11 (depending on variety). This is an easy maintenance shrub to grow. In its natural habitat, the elderberry is commonly found on fertile, moist soils with a pH between 6 and 8. When cultivated it is tolerant to a wide range of soil conditions, but does best in well-drained loamy soils. Good soil drainage should be considered when choosing where to plant an elderberry. In the wild elderberry does well in open fields located away from wooded areas because this reduces disease problems as well as potential insect and bird damage.
Elderberries are a perennial and they require proper soil preparation before planting. A soil test will help determine the pH level, existing nutrient levels and ultimately the suitability of the site. If your soil is sandy or low in nutrients, organic matter such as manure should be incorporated into the existing soil to help increase moisture retention. The site should be cultivated and properly drained prior to planting.
Elderberry needs just under 1” of water every week from bloom time to the end of harvest. If rainfall is scarce then be sure to water this shrub for optimum plant growth and fruit production. They should also be watered if prolonged dry periods occur after harvest.
During the first two seasons, this shrub should be encouraged to grow with little to no pruning. After its second year of growth, pruning should be done in early spring every year. All dead, broken and weak branches must be removed to promote good health. Three-year-old canes should be removed because they produce less fruit. Removal of older canes encourages new growth, growth that will be more fruitful.
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Elderberries and Your Health
Elderberry fruit is health nourishing. It has a huge content of vitamin C and a significant amount of vitamin A. (In fact, it contains more vitamin C than rosehips.) Elderberries have more phosphorus and potassium than any other temperate fruit crop and they also contain vitamin B6 as well as lots of beta-carotene. Elderberries are a good source of fiber and protein as well.
In addition to all this goodness, elderberries have lots of flavonoids and free radical-scouring antioxidants. They also have a high oxygen radical absorbance capacity; over twice as much as blueberries and cranberries.
All this goodness means that these berries are great for improving circulation, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, providing natural support for arthritis and they help to regulate bowel activity. Several European studies say that these berries have anti-viral capabilities too.
If you don’t know where elderberry grows in the wild and you have some space in your backyard then why not plant your own crop? Low maintenance to grow and it gives your body a wealth of health benefits; that’s a win-win.
Tip: Read more about the Health Benefits Of Elderberries
Tasty Elderberry Pie Recipe
4 cups elderberries
1 1/8 cups organic cane sugar
6 tbsp flour
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon powder
2 tbsp melted butter
pastry for a double crust 9-inch pie
Combine berries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Heat mixture; stir occasionally until it starts to boil. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
The spread bottom crust in a 9-inch pie pan. Spread berry mixture in pie shell then cover. Brush butter on top. Poke several vent holes in top crust.
Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, leave the pie in the oven, and bake 30 minutes longer.
Let cool and serve.