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Growing and Traditional Uses of Elderberry

Samantha Picou

Posted on March 03 2020

100 percent natural elderberry

Growing and Traditional Uses of Elderberry


Are you someone who uses elderberry on a regular basis? Have you ever considered growing your own? In our modern society, we often miss out on the beautiful journey that plants take before they become food. From seed to seedling, to plant, to harvest, to preparation, and then finished dish. There really is no greater feeling than nurturing something and being nurtured in return. Our ancestors would use every part of the plants and animals at their disposal to provide for their families, and they made sure that nothing went to waste. The elderberry plant, in particular, played a prominent role in our ancestral past. 


Elderberry was an important source of nutrition for indigenous people and was used in a variety of ways. They ate its berries and flowers. They used the dried berries in an indigenous cuisine called pemmican cakes, they would make “high energy” pemmican cakes, made from dried elderberry and other dried fruits mixed with wild game meat and tallow. They would even make a special treat by battering and frying the flat stalks of the elderflower and serving it with elderberry syrup and honey (1).


Medicinal uses of the elder plant date back to 5th century Europe. The flowers were made into a tea that was used topically as an eyewash or internally to clear trapped heat. Colonial women would make a rob (juice reduced to a paste-like consistency) of elderberry juice and sugar and give a spoonful in warm water to ease spastic coughing and respiratory challenges. In folk medicine mulled elderberry wine was the drink of choice for common ailments (1).


In modern times elderberries are used to make jams, wine, and elderberry syrup, teas and more! If you enjoy using elderberries in your everyday life you may want to consider growing an elderberry plant in your yard. Many gardeners simply use elderberries as ornamentals. These members of the honeysuckle family are easy to grow as attractive shrubs or small trees (2). They are hardy and easy to maintain once you get them going. If you can make it through the first year with your elderberry bush, then it’s there to stay!


Here are just a few tips for growing your own elderberry plant:

- Grow in pairs no more than 60 feet apart for the full benefit of cross-pollination (more fruit to enjoy!)

- Plant in the spring once the danger of frost has passed.

- Keep netting over the plant as the berries ripen to keep birds from eating all of your precious berries.

- Plant in moist well-drained soil, with full or partial sun

- Give them space to thrive, a mature plant can grow up to 12ft tall and 6ft wide. (2),(3).


You’ll want to harvest the berries as dark purple or even black as you think they will get. They should be soft and juicy. If they appear shriveled like a raisin, you’ve waited too long. Enjoy fresh 100 percent natural elderberry right from your backyard and be reminded of the beautiful rewards provided to us by nature. 






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