Elderberry: Wildflower Wednesday

– Posted in: Native/Invasive, Recipes

The American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is a native shrub that grows in the ditches and hedgerows here. As you can see it has attractive white flowers.

American elderberry, Sambucus canadensis

American elderberry, Sambucus canadensis

The flowers attract all sorts of pollinators, but I don’t know any of their names. I tried to find a list but couldn’t. (If you know of a website that lets you enter a North American native plant and then tells you what pollinators depend on that plant, please let me know.)
Elder flower

Elder flower

I’ve read that people dip the flowers in batter and fry them. My thinking is: how does this improve on a doughnut? The flowers must have some flavor to them, because a cordial can be made out of the flowers, and even a soft drink.

We don’t eat the flowers. We just enjoy looking at them, because we are waiting for the berries.


Elderberries. Photo by me'nthedogs

Their flavor is a cross between blackberry and currant, with a slightly bitter undertone from the seeds. There must be some variation in flavor, because William Cullina in Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines calls the berries “sugary,” and I have never in my life encountered elderberries that didn’t need a lot of help in the sweetness department. (Cullina also talks about flower clusters the size of frisbees, and I’ve never seen that, either. Maybe they just grow them bigger and better in Massachusetts.)

Not to worry about the lack of sweetness, because we harvest these berries for pie:

Elderberry-Apple Pie

I discovered this in the 1974 edition of Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook, after my husband brought some fresh picked elderberries into the kitchen, and informed me they were used to make pie.

2 crusts pie pastry
2 cups elderberries from American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
1 1/2 cups tart apples — chopped and peeled
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca
2 tablespoons butter

Wash and stem elderberries. Combine elderberries, apples, sugar, salt, and tapioca, crushing berries with back of the spoon. Spoon mixture into pastry-lined 9″ pie pan. Dot with butter and top with lattice crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until apples are tender and crust is golden.

Of course, the birds like the berries, too, so you have to beat them to the berries.

I’d be interested in hearing how you use the flowers or berries in cooking.

Update: Found a list of wildlife that appreciate the elderberry. Thanks to Gail for the term “faunal associations” which enabled me to find that page.

Photo of ripe elderberries by me’nthedogs. Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogasphere. It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Dan Eskelson November 11, 2011, 2:22 pm

Thanks for the recipe, Kathy.

We are growing four of our native elderberries, Sambucus cerulea, and four of the European black, Sambucus nigra sp. Surprisingly this year the Eu black did better than the native. We dried a bunch to add to hot cereal and munch on in case of flu. Apparently the Eu. Black have the highest anti-viral properties.

Thanks again for the recipe!

Jennie Alice October 12, 2011, 11:04 pm

This recipe was great! I have enough berries to make three more pies . . . but we’re working on the first one for now. I used a pate brisee recipe for the pie crust which turned out nice and flaky. Someone mentioned the berries being sugary, but the ones we picked are very tart (the blue variety). By the way, since I have so many I looked up other uses and came across Martha Stewart’s elderberry syrup recipe (simple: just honey and elderberries). It’s good for warding off the flu, so I’ve been using it to sweeten my tea–very good!

Renee September 23, 2010, 6:36 pm

I had no idea what these flowers were blooming all over my property. I’ll look forward to the berries!

Jana September 17, 2010, 12:34 am

What a wealth of info for me as my friend identified my hugh bushes when she came for a visit.
I have 2 hugh bushes in my small acres. I call this the beautiful 3 stage glory because it starts with clusters of perfect tiny round chartruse buds that are. to me, just as beautiful as the flower clusters and after the flowers comes the beautiful berries.
Oh, and by the way Kathy, my bushes produce clusters the size of a frisbees! 🙂 (I am in S.E. Indiana)
I will try to remember and post photos next spring .
Thanks for all the info guys. Can’t wait for next season to try all the suggestions here.

Annpat September 3, 2010, 2:25 pm

My hubby grew up on elderberry pie in northern Ohio. Though it is definitely an acquired taste, our chidren and I all became eager eaters. Vanilla ice cream usually makes it agreeable even for first-timers. We are in northern WI now and are able to find many roadside bushes to fill our need for winter pie makings. We also make delicious jam and jelly. Also since reading of its antiviral properties a few years ago, we freeze enough to eat 1/4 cup uncooked and unsugared per person every morning throughout the winter months. Oddly, we never see or know of anyone else who eats elderberries. Their loss. Thanks for the article.

Lynn August 11, 2010, 12:06 pm

Thanks for this–I’ve seen many here but have been worried about gathering toxic berries instead of sweet (or to-be-sweetened) ones. A Swiss friends says she makes cordial, so now I want to find a big batch and make some pie and let her do her thing with the drink.

SwimRay August 4, 2010, 10:19 pm

Tried ‘Elberblow’ wine at Black Bear Winery – maybe up the street from you? (Not as good as some of their others IMO.)

Jamie Novak August 3, 2010, 6:22 pm

Elderberry-Apple pie hmmm sounds yummy!

Loving the site, so glad I found you all.

Jim K July 30, 2010, 10:44 pm

My wife grew up in the deep woods of West Virginia (impossibly wild, even for someone who spent most his summers as a boy miles from nowhere in the Adirondacks). To say the elder bushes had flowers the size of frisbees would be putting it mildly. Sometimes they could be as much as 18 inches around. The seemed to like wet feet and would frequently grow in a sunny patch near a ditch or stream. The biggest stands were in areas that had been logged perhaps 10 years earlier, where they would grow best in the slash piles. Their stems are hollow and apparently could be used to make squirt guns. My father in law picks us buckets full of the berries every year which we can mostly into jam or jelly. We’ve started a few bushes in our own backyard. They grow rapidly. Ours are only three years old and already a good sized shrub. This was our first year with an appreciable number of berries. The flower heads were full, but the bracts only seem to have about 50% of the berries they should have. Probably lacking the right pollinator here in the city, I guess. I’m looking forward to trying my had at elderberry wine in a few years and started three more bushes this spring. They are a great addition to our wood’s edge garden.

commonweeder July 30, 2010, 10:09 am

Kathy – we have elderberries growing by the side of our road. When we moved here 30 years ago, our 85 year old neighbor who was afflicted with cancer swore by elderberry juice, parsley tea and corn meal water as purifiers and restoratives. I guess they worked because 25 years earlier the doctors gave her 6 months to live if she didn’t have surgery for her cancer. She disagreed.
.-= commonweeder´s last blog ..Texans on Horseback =-.

Louise Hartwig July 30, 2010, 9:08 am

I used to gather the berries along the railroad tracks near my home and made elderberry jell. Very good.

Frank Adams July 29, 2010, 10:03 pm

Actually, elderberries is a good medicine for flu and diseases of such sort. However, elderberries may cause cyanide poisoning in children if absorbed more than the tolerable amount. But I have tasted these berries and they are really good and really indulging! Thanks for sharing the recipe too!

Rose July 29, 2010, 11:37 am

Those are such lovely blooms! I can’t imagine frying the flowers, though; I’d much rather leave them on the shrub to enjoy. I’ve heard of elderberry wine before, but never elderberry pie–sounds delicious!
.-= Rose´s last blog ..Wildflower Wednesday- A Different Kind of Coneflower =-.

salix July 28, 2010, 10:23 pm

Hi Kathy
I just planted two Sambucus canadensis this year and hope they will grow fast. Unfortunately we don’t see a lot of them growing wild here in my part of Ontario.
In my native Denmark the European elder is very common growing wild (the flowers and berries are almost identical to the American elder) and for generations juice has been made from the berries. They have a very high content of vitamin C and is often used as a remedy against the common cold – mixed with boiling water. In recent years scientists have found that the berries may be beneficial combating several severe illnesses.
In addition to the juice my mother used to make a cordial – and sometimes wine – using the flowers.
.-= salix´s last blog ..Rib Style Basket Making =-.

Kathy Purdy July 28, 2010, 11:05 pm

Do you think you could describe the flavor of the flower? What makes it an appealing edible?

salix July 29, 2010, 9:24 am

The cordial mixed with water is a wonderful cold drink. It’s hard to describe the flavor, somewhat spicy (but not vanilla, cardamom) – like the smell of the flowers. My first thought was that it tastes of summer, but that wouldn’t be of any help, would it? The cordial is made with quite a lot of sugar and a bit of lemon juice. Most of the green stem is cut off as that can give a bitter taste.
The individual flowers are edible and can be used as decoration on cakes, deserts, etc. You can also ad the flowers to fruit jams for it’s delicate spicy taste.
At the Canada Bloom exhibition in Toronto I have bought an elderflower cordial from Bottle Green, a British company.
Maybe you can find one in a health food store?
.-= salix´s last blog ..Rib Style Basket Making =-.

tina July 28, 2010, 5:43 pm

I’ve never eaten elderberries but must remedy that soon. It sounds delicious!
.-= tina´s last blog ..Wildflower-Native Wedesday-Coneflowers =-.

sandy July 28, 2010, 5:25 pm

I have been trying to identify native shrubs and plants in our woods this year. This is one I will look for.
.-= sandy´s last blog ..wildflower wednesday =-.

GardeninginaSandbox July 28, 2010, 4:45 pm

Thanks so much for the recipe for Elderberry-Apple pie. My husband has been after me for years to find a recipe. I guess I will have to try it now.

Carol July 28, 2010, 4:18 pm

I will confess that I’ve seen lots of elderberry around here, but have never eaten it.

Crafty Gardener July 28, 2010, 2:20 pm

very interesting post about elderberries, and that looks like a tasty recipe
.-= Crafty Gardener´s last blog ..The Many Faces of Susan =-.

Cyndy July 28, 2010, 2:17 pm

Oh Kathy, What temptation. I’ve got the berries and the other ingredients, but trying to lose weight! Maybe I’ll pick and freeze for now…
.-= Cyndy´s last blog ..High Summer in the Meadow =-.

Kathy Purdy July 28, 2010, 3:28 pm

We often freeze the berries. Who knows? Maybe you’ll figure out a cobbler recipe. Those are usually much less fattening.

A Garden of Threads July 28, 2010, 2:09 pm

Wonderful post on elderberries. Jam is very good made with elderberries.

Kathy Purdy July 28, 2010, 3:31 pm

Which reminds me-one time we tried using the berry screen of our Squeezo to remove the seeds. It did not work. There is something in the seeds that reacts to the juice and creates a gummy substance. We had a difficult time getting the Squeezo clean. The instructions that came with the berry screen warned against using elderberries, but we had to learn the hard way!

Gail July 28, 2010, 1:38 pm

Kathy, I am hungry after reading this post! I’ve never tried growing Elderberry, but once Hedge is dealt with there may be room for some of these beautiful giants…go here for pollinators! http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/cm_elder.htm

Glad you joined in~you’ve inspired me to try this wildflower.