Elderberries (Sambucus sp.) are native to the subtropical and temperate regions of the world. They are primarily found in the Northern Hemisphere, though there are elderberry species in parts of Australia and South America. There are about thirty species of small trees, herbaceous perennial plants, and shrubs in the Sambucus genus. Elderberry plants are cultivated for their fruits, flowers, and ornamental leaves.. Elderberries produce big clusters of small cream-colored or white flowers during late spring. These flowers turn into small red, blue-black, or black berries. Wild genetic sports of elderberry exist, producing white or yellow berries.
The elderberries are loved by birds and other wildlife. The elderberries are usually made into preserves, jams, pies, or jellies for human consumption. The stems of the elderberry plant have a soft pithy center that is easily removed; for this reason, elderberry was traditionally used for spigots for harvesting maple sap for syrup making.
How To Plant Elderberries
Elderberries begin produce berries when they are two or three years old. The native American varieties consistently produce a large crop of berries. Elderberry plants thrive in a wide variety of soil conditions. They tolerate a wide range of soil pH levels and they are even tolerant of wet and low nutrient soils. They should be watered during any extended dry spell.
Plant elderberry in winter in the southern United States and similar climates; in areas where the soil freezes, plant elderberry in the spring as soon as the soil can be easily worked. Use raised beds when planting in clay soils for heavier yields. Plant elderberry plants 3 feet apart in rows 10 feet apart.
The first year’s growth on elderberry plants may be slow as the plants acclimate to the transplant; subsequent years will produce extensive growth. For better yields, plant at least two elderberry plants for cross pollination. Elderberries grow best in full or partial sun.
Care Of Elderberry Plants
After the first year, once elderberry plants are established, they need very little care. For higher yields, the plants can be mulched and fertilized. Fertilize the plants with a balanced fertilizer twice a year. Water the elderberry plants consistently during dry spells; this will allow the plants to make larger and juicier berries.
Elderberry plants do benefit from pruning in early spring. Prune off dead and diseased branches only.
Propagation Of Elderberry
Eldberry is easily propagaged by cuttings placed in either water or a peat moss propagating mix. Take softwood (usually green colored) cuttings from the end of elderberry stems in early spring. Remove the leaves on the lower 2/3 of the cuttings and place the cuttings in either a jar of water in a sunny window sill. Change the water in the jar a few times a week to prevent it from becoming rancid. Roots will start forming within 8 weeks in the water.
Alternatively, place cuttings in a container with a 50/50 mix of peat moss and perlite. Cover the cuttings with a plasitic bag and set the container in a bright area out of direct sunlight. Use a spray bottle to mist the cuttings daily. Roots will for on the cuttings in about 6 weeks.
Transplant the cuttings either into containers in sheltered place outside, or directly to the final planting site.
Elderberries can grow into thick bushes on the ground and even spread over a wide area with time. Despite this, they can also be grown in large containers if needed. Since the roots will be confined to the container, the tree will need to be pruned each winter to keep it small. To prune a containerized elderberry plant, cut off any stem that touches the ground, or that is damaged. The stems that cross others should also be removed.
Harvesting The Elderberries
Elderberries are usually ready for harvest between August and September. The ripe berries will usually turn deep purple or red. Cut off the entire berry cluster at harvest and remove the berries from the stem. Once harvested, elderberries should be processed right away or stored in the refrigerator, since they spoil quickly at room temperature. They can be cooked and used to make wine, pies, jams, preserves, and syrup.
Enjoying The Harvest
The leaves, bark, and roots of the elderberry plant have a variety of traditional medicinal usages, including as treatment for colds, flu, stomach issues, and pain relief. Elderberries are rich in vitamin c, phosphorus, and potassium. The extracts from its leaves can be used as an insecticide and to treat fungal diseases on plants.
The consumption of raw elderberries isn’t recommended, since the berries, bark, leaves, and roots contain a cyanide compound. This compound is made non-toxic buy cooking and otherwise processing the raw berries.
To freeze elderberries for later use, remove the berries from the stem and wash them. Scald the berries in boiling water for one minute, and then cool them in size water. Drain off water pat the berries dry. Pack the berries in freezer bags and freeze. They should keep for about a year.
Using fresh or frozen elderberries, try this recipe for elderberry jelly:
3 pounds elderberries juice of 1 lemon 1 box fruit pectin 4 1/2 cups sugar
Heat the berries over low heat until the juice starts to flow and then simmer the fruit for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid through a double layer of cheesecloth (overnight is fine). Mix the elderberry and lemon juices along with just enough water to make three cups of fluid. Add the pectin, bring the mixture to a boil and stir in the sugar. Can in jars per manufacture’s recommendation.