An elderberry, or sambucus, is a fruit-bearing, deciduous shrub with at least 30 known species, most commonly found growing in the Northern Hemisphere. The elderberry shrub typically grows to about 10 feet (3 meters) tall and shows yellow and white blossoms in early summer, followed by deep blue or black berries which usually ripen around September. The berries are edible when ripe and have long been thought to have medicinal properties.
Ripened elderberries can be used like other berries in fruit pies, muffins, and jams. The dried flowers can also be steeped in water to make elderberry tea and the berries crushed to make elderberry juice. The fresh berries of the elderberry shrub can be used in all the ways other berries are used, including as a topping for pancakes or ice cream, in cobblers, or simply eaten fresh.
In addition to jams, jellies, teas, and fruit pies, the juice of the elderberry is also used in making wine. Elderberry wine is described as uniquely rich by many and is quite common in the United States and Europe. It can also be found in sherry and brandy.
As an herbal remedy, elderberry is believed to possess therapeutic uses an anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and immuno-stimulant. When measured nutritionally against other berries, elderberries contain high concentrations of vitamins A and C and potassium. Medicinal products containing elderberry include throat lozenges and cough syrup.
Some grocers and many farmers’ markets and fruit stands sell elderberries. Should you choose to grow your own elderberry shrub, they are fairly easy to grow compared to all other fruit trees. They prefer sun, but will tolerate a moderate amount of shade.
The elderberry needs well-drained, organic soil and room to grow to at least 10 feet (3 meters) in height. Harvesting should occur when berries are fully ripened, but cannot be left for long as birds will eat the berries. Check your local nursery or garden center to purchase an elderberry shrub for planting. They can be special ordered if there is no retailer in your area that sells them.