The American Black Elderberry is a small deciduous fruit tree bearing clusters of white blossoms followed by sweet, black fruit. “York and Nova ” are selected varieties known for their’s particularly large and flavorful fruit.
Elderberries have been an important native food and medicine source for thousands of years - but only the blue and purple-berried species are edible. Berries and flowers can be eaten fresh, but are best cooked or made into elderberry wine, jam, syrup, and pies. The entire flower cluster can be dipped in batter and fried, while petals can be eaten raw or made into a fragrant and tasty tea.
The fruit and flowers are very nutritious and medicinal - they contain high levels of antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin A. The flowers contain flavonoids and rutin, which are known to improve immune function.
CAUTION: Raw berries contain compounds that should not be consumed in large quantities. Leaves and stem are toxic.
Black Elderberry is an attractive fruit-bearing ornamental in the home landscape. Its graceful pointed leaves and long purple-tinted stems give way to large sprays of white blossoms in late Spring, followed by bunches of purple-black berries soon after. Butterflies are attracted to the flowers, and many species of small birds flock to the berries in late August.
Environment and Culture
The range of the American Black Elderberry is wide; it is more abundant in Eastern North America, but has made its way into Western states as well. Elderberry can adapt and thrive in many different environments. It is a vigorous grower with shallow roots and can perform well as a deciduous, edible hedge or windscreen.
Once established, it is very low-maintenance for its lifetime, making it a great plant for the lazy gardener - and if you don’t harvest its fruit, the wildlife surely will! Native Americans used virtually every part of this special tree for either food, medicine, or materials to make tools.
Harvest, Care, and Preparation
Second-year elderberry canes with good lateral development are the most fruitful - prune to emphasize these. Harvest flower clusters from tree when in full bloom and fragrance. Clip berry clusters whole from tree when fully blue and soft, and strip from cluster for use. Once harvested, use the fruit as soon as possible or keep at a cool temperature.
Berries and flowers can be eaten raw, but are much better cooked and added to other dishes such as pancakes, fritters, pies, cobblers, or puddings. The flowers add an aromatic flavor and lightness to pancakes or fritters. Or, add sweetener and cook berries down into a syrup on the stove to be stored or used in any dish that needs a rich berry flavor. Enjoy!