Elder Berry Northern California

elderberries-macro-2 elderberry-tree-2 native-elderberry-2 stripped-2

Elderberry is native to Europe and North America.  The European elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) has dark bluish purple berries while there are two  North American elderberries, Sambucus Canadensis is native to the area east of the Rockies, and Sambucus Caerulea (a sub species of Sambucus Nigra) is native to the area West of the Rockies and extending all the way down to Mexico.

All the elderberries I have mentioned above are edible though it is important to note that it is best not to eat the flowers or berries raw unless you are very sure of the plant’s specific variety because some varieties have poisonous parts without being cooked*.  Unless you know exactly which species of elderberry you have you should always cook the berries and flowers before eating them.  If you are growing your own you can pick the specific variety you would like to grow; if you are foraging for elderberry you may find any of the types mentioned above growing in the wild.  Any elderberry with blue or purple berries is safe to consume when cooked, what you need to avoid is any elderberry with red berries.


Poison Look Alikes:


Sambucus Racemosa (Red Elder) and Sambucus Canadensus “Aurea” are two types of elderberry with red berries that are poisonous.  While some red berry varieties may be safe to use under certain circumstances, it is best to avoid them unless you are an herbal expert.

Red berries = poison.

Black, blue, or purple berries = edible and safe when cooked.

That ‘s the most important thing you need to know.


Elder Berry what its for:

Elderberries have been used medicinally for hundreds of years.  The bark,  stems, and leaves have been traditionally used as healing poultices and the berries are used to make syrups to strengthen the immune system, to lessen the symptoms and shorten the durations of colds, coughs, and flus.  The berries have also been used to make jams, jellies, and pies.  It is important to always cook the berries- they are astringent when raw and could potentially make you sick.  Cooking them not only neutralizes the chemicals in them that can make you sick, but it enhances the unique flavor of the berry.  You can use both the American native varieties or the more traditional European varieties to make this recipe.

The proportions of ingredients here come from Rosemary Gladstar’s book “Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health”.  Rosemary Gladstar is one of the leading herbalists in our country and it was her herbal training books that my mom learned from to get her herbology certificate.

I had to do some considerable research to find out about recommended dosage.  I ended up calling my mom for information and what she told me confirmed the information I found online.  It is not possible to overdose on elderberry syrup.  The only ill effect anyone might experience  is a little diarrhea if you eat/drink too many elderberries**, but only in the same way some people experience this eating too much of any fruit.

  • For boosting your child’s immune system during the cold season take a teaspoon every morning and every night.
  • For lessening the symptoms and durations of coughs, colds, sore throats, and flu: take 1 to 2 teaspoons every couple of hours until you are better.

What my mom said is that you can experiment to find what is most effective for you and your family members.  I found some recommendations on line that suggested taking 2 tablespoons a day for adults and 1 tablespoon a day for children to help avoid colds.  So there is a tremendous amount of flexibility here so that you can find what works.

Elderberry Syrup


1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried elderberries

3 cups of water

1 cup honey


1.  Put the berries in a medium sized nonreactive sauce pan and cover them with the water.  Bring the water and berries to a boil and then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.

2.  Smash the berries and then strain them out.  (I use butter muslin over a strainer and then squeeze the muslin to get all the juices I can out of the berries.)

3.  Add the honey and stir well.

4.  When the syrup has cooled put it into bottles (or jars- but bottles will make for easier pouring), label, and store in the refrigerator.   The syrup will keep for 2 to 3 months.

You can freeze any extra elderberries to make additional batches of the syrup as you need it.

*I have seen some extension service information that says you can eat the berries raw, I ate one before I read that they could potentially not be safe to eat raw and was thoroughly unimpressed with the flavor so I am not tempted to eat more raw.  Most sources state that you should cook the berries before eating.

**This is provided you aren’t allergic to elderberries.

If you want to know more about foraging and identifying elderberries read this:


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