Simply The Best Natives-Common Elderberry

 What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  ~Clara L. Balfour



This year, I am continuing my series profiling native plants.  Each month I pick a native plant to recommend that is growing in my garden.  And as part of this profile, I link in with others who are espousing the wonders of their native plants and wildflowers through the Wildflower Wednesday meme hosted by Gail@Clay and Limestone.

DSCN2551At the end of this post, you can find the list of the native plant I profiled last year.  One of these days, I will put up a page with all the  native plants I have profiled over the last few years.  

For this first profile of 2015, I am showcasing Common Elderberry or Sambucus canadensis.  This berry producing bush, that I have grown to love both in flower and fruit, is part of the Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae).  It has many common names such as American Elderberry, Mexican Elderberry, Black Elder,  Blackberry Elder, Common Elder, Elder Flower, Sambucus and Sweet Elder.

Common Elderberry is found throughout a large area of North America; east of the Rocky Mountains, and south to Mexico and Central America.  It grows in moist areas like swamp edges, marshes, bogs, ponds, streams, fields, ditches and woods.  Pictured here, mine is growing with monarda near my back pergola.


I am joining forces once again with a local native plant nursery, Amanda’s Garden, to purchase native plants for my garden.  The owner, Ellen Folts, specializes in woodland, prairie and wetland native perennials.




Growing Conditions

Common Elderberry is a perennial shrub that forms a dense thicket.  It is hardy from zone 3 to 8. It can grow up to 10 feet tall and prefers full or partial sun and a moist, loamy soil. Once established, it is virtually problem-free.

DSCN9238Blooms are white, and fruit is bright red then turning purple-black as it ripens.  I have several pictures in the post of the different stages of berries forming and growing starting with the fruit beginning to form (pictured left).

Flowers occur from June to July, and you can pick berries August through October.

The fastest way to propagate Common Elderberry is by taking softwood cuttings from one-year old plants.




Benefits to Wildlife 

IMG_2584Birds and some mammals love to eat elderberries.  Deer will browse this bush, but I have not seen any around my elderberry. 

The flowers are a wonderful nectar source for native bees.  And the bush also provides nesting materials for native bees, and a nest site for birds including hummingbirds.  How cool would that be to have hummers nesting in the garden.  Perhaps I can plant more of these shrubs in my wet areas where the hummers would have more privacy.





DSCN0097The leaves, stems and unripe berries of Common Elderberry are toxic.  Berries that have been dried or cooked are not poisonous.

The most common use for the berries is in making jelly, preserves, pies, and wine.  The berries are low in calories and high in potassium, beta-carotene, calcium, phosphorous and vitamin C.

The fragrant flowers are edible.  And you can make a wonderful tea from the dried flowers.

I love to plant other natives like the echinacea pictured here with my elderberry shrub.




Folklore and Tales 

The name ‘Sambucus‘ is taken from the word for an ancient musical instrument.  It refers to the elder stems that were used to make instruments. 

Bark and roots were used for tanning leather and dyeing fabric.IMG_2583

During the mid 1800s, edible parts of the plant were brewed as a tea and used medicinally.

Common Elderberry was also used by many Native American tribes as a remedy for toothache, asthma, inflammation, headaches and fever.

Native Americans also used the ripe berries and the flowers for food.

In Europe, the European elder was said to have healing properties and possess magic.  Charms made from the wood kept away evil and disease.  Sleeping under the elder was supposed to create dreams.

In the Language of Flowers, the Elderberry blossoms represented Humility, Kindness, Zeal and Compassion




Do you grow elderberries or other berry producing bushes?  Do you have a favorite variety?



Simply The Best 2014:


November-New England Aster

October-Maidenhair Fern

September- St. John’s Wort

August-Golden Alexanders

July-Wild Geranium

June-Ostrich Fern



March-Northern Sea Oats

February-Common Boneset

January-Pearly Everlasting



In A Vase On Monday 


Some of the paperwhites have bloomed and what a beautiful, simple vase they make.  It is Monday so it is time to find flowers and plant material in the garden to put in a vase.  Thankfully I grew some paperwhites under my grow lights, at Cathy’s suggestion.  These are Narcissus papyraceus ‘Ziva’.




paperwhites collage

I took a few photos over a couple of days as the blooms opened.  The vase I used was discovered sitting on top of the kitchen cabinets gathering dust.  It was purchased somewhere years ago.  I love the colors and shape.




paperwhites vase collage

I placed this vase in the living room where lots of sun streams in this time of year.  I took a few shots in black and white.  I love the contrast.  Has anyone noticed that paperwhites don’t smell at night?  As soon as the sun goes down, the odor lessens until it stops altogether especially once the blooms are fully open…strange.

I am joining in with a few memes this week as I prepare this vase:  Cathy@Rambling in the Garden for her wonderful meme, In a Vase on Monday; Today’s Flowers hosted by Denise@An English Girl Ramblesand with Judith@Lavender Cottage  who is hosts Mosaic Monday.

So what may be in bloom this winter ready to be plucked for an arrangement.  I am still trying to force a few of the willow branches (shown at the top of this post) for an early bloom.  And I have more bulbs growing indoors.  Still lots to choose from even in winter.



Next up on the blog:  

Next Monday, I will be have a Garden Journal post highlighting January’s garden.

I am linking in with Michelle for her Nature Notes meme at her new blog just for Nature Notes.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Tuesday. 



I am also joining in I Heart Macro with Laura@Shine The Divine that happens every Saturday.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2015.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.  

102 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives-Common Elderberry”

  1. I think I’m going to have to look for some elderberry bushes. I have an area where I think they will do pretty good.
    How nice that you have paperwhites blooming. What a beautiful surprise for this time of year.

    1. Oh you will love the elderberry bushes Sue. It was delightful to have the paperwhites bloom so quickly and I hope to grow them again next year for winter blooms.

  2. I like the Sambucus canadensis Donna, love the shot with the Echinacea. I must say I am particularly fond of the varieties with dark leaves, like black lace, and prefer to cut them back hard in Spring, getting the best out of the foliage.

    1. I had the dark leaf variety but it did not like my climate Alistair so I planted the native variety. But I do admit the leaves of the dark leaf elderberry are stunning.

  3. In Europe Sambucus nigra is the common native species. I use the flowers to make cordials and sorbets, they can also be battered and deep fried as a dessert. You profile is a bit confusing because you say the leaves and flowers are poisonous and then that they can be used. Might be worth checking. Sambucus nigra is also called common elder. Love the paperwhites.

    1. Thanks for catching the error Christina. The flowers are not poisonous and I corrected the error. Sadly the unripe berries are poisonous as is the rest of the plant. Once the berries ripen they can be used along with the flowers to make a variety of things. But the leaves, roots or stems of the Sambucus canadensis should never be eaten. They have used these other parts of the plant for other purposes, but not eating them.

      A perfect reason for using the latin names since both plants are called Common Elder.

  4. I have admired some of the elderberry cultivars for some time and have been searching for a good spot to plant one or more. But maybe I should consider the native plant instead–if hummingbirds like them for nesting, that is all the convincing I need! How nice that you have a local source for native plants. In my area, the only place I can find them is at a once-a-year sale by the local prairie plant society. The garden centers and nurseries in my area have only a limited selection of natives. But my little town does have a store that specializes in elderberry wine and other elderberry products:)

    1. I have a few native plant nurseries about an hour to 2 hours away so that is nice Rose. it is hard when you don’t have local sources nearby. And I would definitely plant at least one native elderberry. And how lovely to have all the delights of elderberries in your town’s store.

  5. I enjoyed reading about the elderberry Donna. I am very interested in putting native plants and flowers in my garden, especially those that attract the bees and butterflies. Very interesting post and thank you very much for linking with Today’s Flowers.

  6. I love these informative posts of your Donna, and your little vase with the Paperwhites is so stylish – I love the colours and glaze of the vase too. I am also intrigued by what you say about the aroma – did you find that out by experience, I wonder? 🙂

    1. Glad you enjoyed the vase Cathy….it really is quite a lovely vase that I hope to use again. The aroma is an observation that I had recently from the paperwhites. It is really fascinating and I couldn’t find any info online about it. Perhaps it is because of where I placed the paperwhites. But it has been intriguing to observe.

  7. You and Cathy were in tune on the paperwhites, Donna. They’re simple yet beautiful.

    Unfortunately, elderberries do not grow here but Heteromeles arbutifolia, commonly called Toyon and the official native plant of Los Angeles, produces lots of beautiful red berries each winter. That and Nandina are the main berry producers in my garden.

    1. Great to have a native berry bush their in LA Kris. And I was so happy to have some flowers in winter with the paperwhites. So easy to grow.

  8. I am an Elderberry Addict and proud to admit it! I grew up on a Dairy Farm, raised by immigrant Grandparent’s from Sweden and Finland. Each Summer, my Gran and I would “Go A Harvestin'” from all the wild edibles around the area. This included cattails, White Acorns (we’d boil them and eat them…yum!), dandelion greens every spring, wild strawberries and blueberries and of course, the cherished Elderberries. We’d make fritters from the flowers, elderberry fizz, and come September, we’d always harvest pounds and pounds of the berries. It was MY job, as a wee girl, to remove the berries from the bundles; I loved the extreme detail required to harvest the berries. 😀 We’d eat as many of them fresh, as we could (Apple-Elderberry Pie is the BEST THING EVER!!!) and then we’d dry the remainder of them so be used in the Winter.

    I’ve tried growing them on my own farm but they never thrive like the ones growing in ditches. So, I gave up and now know ever wild area in my local so that I can harvest them each year.

    1. Oh how delightful Robin. Such yummy childhood memories….and I’ll have to try the apple elderberry pie. The elderberries growing in the wild here are also prolific….I love seeing them growing on the side of the road. Thanks for joining in and sharing so much info.

      1. Hi, Donna. Thanks for your nice reply to me. If you decide to make that pie, please make sure that the berries you use are very, very ripe! They are quite astringent if you don’t allow them to “sugar up” as my Gran would say.

        Here’s to September and Harvest-time of Elderberries!

  9. Beautiful bouquets…simple and so elegant. I am fascinated by your observation of the fragrance of the paperwhites. Since most things like this have something to do with survival—however primitive—, I wonder what in the world it could be?!? I love what Robin wrote above about her experiences and the Apple-Elderberry Pie. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have berries of almost every kind and people make the most unusual combinations of berry pies. But I’ve been asleep to Elderberries! I won’t be now-:)

    1. I love many different combos of berries in pies too and wish I had more room to grow many different kinds Susan….I hope the birds will leave me a few so I can try Robin’s combo. Not sure why the paperwhites fragrance reduced at night, but I found it very fascinating.

  10. Hi Donna
    I grow elderberry, planted to feed the birds but only starlings seem to eat the berries. Mine travels a great deal so I’m always on top of that restraint as well as I cut it right back in spring to maintain a shorter shrub.
    Thank you for linking to Mosaic Monday, pretty paper whites in the vase!

    1. It is good to know I can cut it back hard if I have to Judith….It seems the birds like mine too although I don’t know which ones…glad you enjoyed the paperwhites.

  11. The Paperwhites are lovely Donna… I had no idea they don’t smell at night. I wonder of the same is true of other fragrant flowers brought indoors. Yes, we have lots of Elder in our piece of woodland, but the European one (S. nigra) It can grow enormous given the right conditions and I struggle to reach the blossoms or berries if I harvest any! I usually make elderflower cordial, and sometimes liqueur too. The deer lie under it… apparently this is quite common as it provides good shelter. I wonder if they also dream… 🙂 Lovely post Donna. Stay warm and safe with that storm coming your way!

    1. Oh it sounds wonderful all you use the elderberries for Cathy…..lovely to think the deer dreaming beneath them too. As for the smell of the paperwhites, I will have to see if other fragrant flowers stop smelling at night this spring and summer.

  12. Hi Donna, I thoroughly enjoyed your homage to the common elder. I had one growing in my last garden and loved it for it’s frothy white flowers and the birds loved it for it’s juicy black berries. I have a black leaved variety in my new garden and love it too. Your simple vase of Paperwhites is lovely – the white flowers look perfect in the vase you chose. Elizabeth

    1. Thanks Elizabeth….I agree the frothy white flowers of the elderberry are such a beautiful sight in the garden in spring.

  13. I am sipping a glass of elderflower cordial made in the summer as I read your post tonight Donna! I love my elderberry trees and use the berries in my autumn flower arrangements ( you do have to be very careful though as they stain anything they touch). Your photos of the paperwhites are beautiful!

  14. BEautiful photos Donna and as always chocked full of interesting information. I loved reading the qualities that elderberries represent! Thanks for sharing the love up-close with I Heart Macro:-)

  15. Thanks, Donna, I learned so much about Elderberries. I seem to remember having Elderberry pancakes at some point. We have quite a few berry-producing shrubs here–plenty of food for the birds. 🙂 Lovely Paperwhites, too.

  16. When I was nine we moved to the Chicago area for a few years and bought an older home with a classic midwestern yard and garden – complete with elderberry tree! I remember that my mother did try to make a pie with the berries once; I honestly can’t recall much about it 😉 Since we had moved from Los Angeles, that garden was my introduction to many cold-climate plants: tulips, bleeding-heart, gypsophila, not to mention homegrown raspberries…! Anyway, it was fun reading your post – and the paperwhites are gorgeous!

  17. Hello Donna, thanks for sharing the info on the Elderberry..I believe we may have this bush growing in our is also in the woods next to our house.. I prefer growing bushes like this mainly to attract the wildlife.. Your paperwhites are lovely.. Beautiful images, have a happy day!

    1. I agree Eileen… I grow many berry bushes for birds first and then if they share, I’ll try some berries….glad you enjoyed the paperwhites.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post and quote Carver….I do enjoy profiling the native plants…so interesting and I learn so much!

  18. That elderberry looks awfully familiar. I bet we have them growing at the edge of our yard. Can’t wait to check this summer. Love the delicate yellow flowers in the case. So cheery.

    1. Well I hope you find elderberries at the edge of your yard…and try them once they ripen if they are elderberries…look for white frothy flowers in the spring.

  19. I learned so much about native elderberry plants today, Donna! I’m going to plant one this year in our Zone 5 garden. I have been adding a new native plant each year. ♡

    1. How wonderful Dawn and keep planting those natives…they are so interesting especially when you notice the critters that visit them.

  20. Lovely Paperwhites!
    I think there are elderberry bushes here. I will have to wait until they bloom to make positive ID. Love your photos!

  21. In my native Sweden, we fry the flowers dipped in batter and eat for dessert. We also make jellies, and elderberry syrup – so good! Loved to learn that sleeping under the elderberry stimulates dreams… I might have to move my hammock! 🙂

  22. Oh, I love Paperwhites – I can almost smell them! Such a beautiful, simple arrangement. Also love the Elderberry you are showcasing here, Donna. I wish I had more room! I planted a sambucus nigra, Black Lace which is related to the common Elderberry. I planted the Black Lace for its foliage but it also has white/pink flowers in spring (not summer) and beautiful deep, dark berries – though not edible for humans (birds, yes) – pooh. It suffered for the first time in 4 years last winter and died back quite a bit but came back with a vengeance. I am hoping this winter is kinder to her. It would be so wonderful if a hummingbird found this elderberry suitable for nesting! I think a grouping of elderberries in your boggy part of the garden would be stunning – oh, the birds it would attract!

    1. I do love the Black Lace elderberry but mine did not survive so I planted the native….and I bet yours will be back and doing just fine. Glad you enjoyed the paperwhites Kathy.

  23. Donna, I love the paper whites. I gave starter kits to my kids at Christmas … Remembering how much we loved them when we lived in cooler climates! The elderberry bushes are so interesting and lovely. I remember eating elderberry jelly way back when I was a child (way way back)… But don’t remember seeing the bushes ever!

    1. Your kids are lucky Sallie to have these flowers to grow….and what a lovely memory eating elderberry jelly. I will have to try and make some this summer.

  24. I think we may have elderberries all over the island in Maine but I am never sure. I couldn’t really see the leaves, are they compound? And what is the habit of the whole shrub? Ours are upright and full.

    1. Yes Carolyn the leaves are compound and the shrub has many long stems rising from the base and arching so I would consider it upright and full. I would bet if you have shrubs that are covered with frothy white flowers in spring and purple berries in fall that they are elderberries….they grow all over fields and along roadsides here.

  25. Great photos, as always! There are lots of berrying plants here in Central Texas, but no elderberry, alas. It looks like it’s one of those all-around great plants: beautiful and useful for wildlife and people. It doesn’t get better than that!

  26. I do have an elderberry bush in my backyard. Last year was hard on it but it did survive. I’m hoping this winter is much kinder to it!

    I used to pick wild elderberries and make jelly but now that my husband is diabetic I try to keep most sweets out of the house.

  27. Nice facts on the elderberries. I have native red elderberries growing in my yard, they turn into more of a tree than a shrub, and I planted Sambucus caerula which gets enormous in a few years. That makes it too big to pick the fruit, but the local Pileated Woodpecker likes the berries. The wood is very weak so the whole tree really fell apart after a heavy snowfall. I also planted several Black elderberries but only one, York, has had fruit. They have all stayed small, so were not very vigorous for me.

    1. I have read in comments folks referring to elderberry trees and have never heard of them…so they have red berries. And the woodpeckers eat your elderberries….so I will have to keep watch to see who visits mine as I know the birds were gorging on them.

  28. Delightful to see all your elderberries! One of my favourites growing in the wild – a beautiful stand-out in swampy/desolate areas – flowers, berries, good form – definitely something to try in a garden if you’ve got the room & want to expand your native collection.

  29. Hi Donna, This is a shrub that I have been interested in for a while. One question: you wrote that the “unripe” berries were toxic. Are the ripe berries toxic as well? I guess something in the cooking or drying process must remove the toxins?

  30. Donna a nice profile of your native elderberry, I didn’t know about perennial shrubs so thanks for explaining, I love elderberries, I have the common European elderberry, which I have taken cuttings from, I also have a golden one which has been slower to grow, a fine leaf black elderberry, I think it is black lace, sorry, I am being lazy and not sorting out latin names, I bought 3 more black elderberries last autumn so this will be their first year I hope they will come through winter, they are different to the other black one, I like your one with its different growing habit, Frances

    1. Oh with all those elderberries Frances you will be able to make all kinds of yummy drinks and treats. And the birds there will love your garden.

  31. Interesting information about elderberry using Donna. Here in old times elderberry was as a remedy for toothache as well.
    I grow a small bush of it, but it blooms very occasionally, don’t know why.

  32. Hi again Donna, i saw lots of temperate flowers both domesticated and wild during my trip to Australia and New Zealand. They are amazing, some of them i already knew because i often see them in blogs like yours.

  33. I grow Sambucus nigra ‘ Black Lace’ which has lovely black leaves and pink flowers. It makes a wonderful pink cordial for a lovely, refreshing, summer drink.
    I love your paper whites. How pretty.

  34. A great plant. I’d love to taste something made with the berries! I have a little Black Lace Elderberry, but I didn’t realize until after I bought it that it was a European Elderberry, not a native one.

    1. Indie I had one too and it did not survive here so I replaced it with a native. You can still harvest the berries I believe on that one once they are ripe and still plant a native one as well. I plan to plant some more in my wet areas.

  35. We once had elderberry on our property, Donna. The shrub was there since my husband was a boy. It was removed by accident when the former kennels were raised (his mother was a dog breeder.) I really miss the elderberry especially as my husband made the BEST elderberry waffles. Must find a spot for a new one! P. x

  36. I love learning so much about Mother Nature through you and your lens, Donna. Please don’t ever stop your love affair with her! 🙂

  37. I have S. canadensis in the corner of my back garden and the S. racemosa along the side of the house. I also have ‘Sutherland’s Gold’ in the back garden.

  38. Very nice photo of that dragonfly, Donna. The elderberry is a wonderful plant, I agree. Sorry I cannot blog hop from here and cannot visit all your posts. When only visiting every few weeks like you do, and traveling, it is not possible to reciprocate. Internet is slow and it takes a long time to load your posts. I will catch up later, maybe in a few weeks.

    1. Do not worry about commenting or reading right now Donna. We all have things happening that preclude us from reading sometimes. I have been working on some home projects and dealing with family issues that have kept me from reading regularly since November. I am hoping to get into a regular rhythm soon.

      And when you get back from vacation, you can catch up with me or just start from now. You know me….no worries. Enjoy Hawaii.

  39. Thanks for the great info! I received Sambucus ‘Lemon Lace’ as a gift last year. It is still quite small but has grown well. I am looking forward to watching it mature! This is the first elderberry I have grown. If it does well, there are other varieties I would like to grow.

  40. I enjoyed your post Donna, so much information about a plant I really know very little about. I live in Britain and I have actually never tasted fresh elderberries! Sad truth, but they don’t really grow in central London unless planted in gardens…..but I have had elderberry cordial many times, that’s lovely.

    Your vase is beautiful, and the flowers are gorgeous, a really fitting vase on a Monday for this time of year!

    1. Oh thanks so much Helene…the flowers were such a special edition to my home this winter….and I hope to finally taste some elderberries too.

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