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(Sambucus nigra spp.)

Other Names:

American Elder, American Black Elderberry, Black Elder, Elder



Adoxaceae Moschatel family

Identifying characteristics:

Growth Type:

Deciduous perennial shrub or small tree.


Can grow up to 20' tall or more, although most specimens I have seen average about 8-10' tall.


The leaves are pinnate and typically contain 59 leaflets. Each leaf is 2 - 12 in long, and the leaflets have serrated margins.


Multiple stemmed shrub.


Spreading root system



Late spring


Large clusters of small white or cream-colored flowers.


Large clusters of small, glossy, dark purple to black berries, approximately 1/8" in diameter.

Miscellaneous characteristics:



Sunny locations in fertile soils of fields, and alongside streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes.

Parts Used:

Flowers, Ripe Berries


Wild Food Uses:

Flowers can be soaked in water and fermented to make an effervescent "soda-like" drink. The unripe berries are mildly toxic, but lose this toxicity as they ripen. The ripe berries can be eaten raw, but may cause gastric upset. Cooked berries are used in jams, pies, compotes. The ripe berries have been harvested to make a delicate and delicious wine.

The following text is meant for informational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness or injury. Always consult with a physician or other qualified medical care provider concerning the diagnosis and treatment of any illness or injury.

Medicinal Uses:

Elderberry has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. It was used to treat injuries and rheumatism. Recent scientific studies have demonstrated elderberry to be effective at alleviating allergies, increasing respiratory health, and treating influenza. I have found a syrup made from elderberries, licorice root, mullein, and cherry juice, taken when symptoms first appear, to be highly effective at heading off a cold or flu.

Medicinal Actions:

Alterative, Anticatarrhal, Antipyretic, Aperient, Cathartic, Cholagogue, Diaphoretic, Emetic



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Revised: 09/09/16 Living Afield