The common elderberry is oftentimes overlooked in its value on the homestead. While it is native in many areas it has also naturalized in so many places that most folks take it for granted. Elderberries can easily be wild harvested in many parts of the country. Until fairly recently, improved cultivars have been rare and relatively expensive here in the States.
The elderberry forms an attractive shrub or can be trained into a small tree reching 10 to 15 feet in height. This hardy perennial is adaptable from USDA zones 3-10, so it can be grown pretty much anywhere in the United States. It does well in full sun to partial shade, and likes a fairly moist well drained soil.
Elderberries leaf out early in the spring, and produce a showy display of umbiflorous flower s(like carrots, dill, or yarrow). It makes a great insectory plant, providing good nectar flow and attracts both pollinators and other beneficial insects. For this reason alone it would be great to have a few elder bushes in your orchard or on your garden edges. But wait there’s more!
Elder is also a potent medicinal and edible landscape partner. The leaves have ant-microbial properties and make a good adjunct to healing salves, and the juice of the fruit is famous as a cold and flu remedy (sold commercially in Europe). You can eat the berries fresh, though some find the flavor unappealing, as well as the blossoms (often battered and fried as a fritter). The juice makes a truly beautiful wine or can be transformed into a tasty jam or syrup.
The leaves, stems, and roots are said to be mildly toxic, containing a precursor to cynide, so some caution should be made in regards to preparation and consumption. Judging by the way cattle, elk, and deer desimate the bushes, large amounts would need to be eaten to be harmful. I’ve personally watched a cow eating the leaves off several bushes without any I’ll effects on our homestead.
We have many native elderberry bushes growing on our place along with several selected cultivars that were planted this season. I placed the selected varieties on our hugelkultur mounds near the greenhouse and main garden area. We’ll be evaluating them as the years go by for production, flavor, and hardiness, then propagating the best. We like the beneficial insect attracting properties along with the medicinal uses for our homestead, try them out we think you will like them too!
Grow some of your own here! Elderberry Seeds