Elderberry is a many-stemmed shrub with opposite, compound
leaves. It grows to a height of 6 meters. Its flowers are fragrant,
white, and borne in large flat-topped clusters up to 30 centimeters
across. Its berrylike fruits are dark blue or black when ripe.
Habitat and Distribution
This plant is found in open, usually wet areas at the margins
of marshes, rivers, ditches, and lakes. It grows throughout much
of eastern North America and Canada.
The flowers and fruits are edible. You can make a drink by
soaking the flower heads for 8 hours, discarding the flowers,
and drinking the liquid.
All other parts of the plant are poisonous and dangerous if
Generally, the raw berries are considered inedible, although
a few varieties were regularly eaten raw by some native American
tribes. Drying or cooking may destroy most of the bad-smelling
and potentially toxic compounds. The berries are more often used
in jams, jellies, wines and pies, rather than as fresh fruit.
The flowers have been and still are used to make wine. They
are also used for "fritters." For these you dip the
flower clusters in a simple batter and fry them. Try not to eat
too much of the flower stalks, as most parts of the plant are
considered to be poisonous.
Some sources say the red-fruited varieties are somewhat poisonous,
while the ripe blue or black-fruited elderberries are edible
and safe. Since the generally edibility is not entirely clear,
try only a small quantity when you first eat the berries.