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  • Writer's pictureSheri

Elderberry: What You Probably Didn't Know

You may already know that elderberries are all about being healthy. They are healthy for humans, animals and even the soil!

The colorful elderberry packs powerful antioxidants that boosts the immune system and relieves flu-like symptoms. While it's not a miracle cure, the berry is rich in healthful flavoniods, especially anthocyanins that create the elderberry’s dark coloring.

Elderberries provide beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body, meeting about 6% of your daily total. This vitamin can help you combat free radicals that damage your skin, heart, and lungs. In addition, vitamin A aids in fighting inflammation, which can interfere with the proper functioning of cells and muscles.

Did you know that elderberries:

- Fight the flu and colds in humans?

- Fight the bird flu and coccidia in chickens?

- Provide the soil with good nutrients?

It's a powerhouse berry full of benefits! But before you go out to buy some, read on.


Did you know that 95% of the elderberry products sold in the United States are imported from Europe? European Elderberries are NOT the same as American Elderberries. European Elderberries have a higher quantity of naturally occuring precursors of cyanide in them. Cyanide is a very poisonous compound consisting of carbon and nitrogen with either sodium or potassium. This is why you may have heard that elderberries must be boiled completely before eating.

You might wonder, why does America import most of our elderberries when they are easy to grow right here? The answer is this: Because the U.S. farmers haven't taken it up to develop it into a commercial crop. But the good news is, elderberry growing is slowly becoming popular here in the States. And here in the Midwest is the very best place to grow them! But they can grow in every state in America, including Hawaii and Alaska. Did you know that our state of Missouri grows 50% of our nations berries currently? That's great news!

But for now, if you must purchase elderberry products in stores be sure to look for "American Elderberries" on the label as they are far superior; they don't have the precursor of cyanide in them. This means they do not have to be cooked as much so you can keep more of the nutrition in the products. You can be sure that if the ingredients include American Elderberries, they will put it on the label because they are proud of the fact, knowing it is a superior berry.


While this might not be an option for everyone, you could consider growing your own elderberries!

Elderberry plants are hardy perennials that typically bear a small harvest after the second year of planting and are fully mature and have a 10-12 pound harvest by the third year. Recommended growing zones are 3-8 but every state in the U.S. is able to grow elderberries.

Growing the elderberry plant can be done from seed or from cutting. Plants from cuttings are preferred because an elderberry plant from seed will not have the exact characteristics as the mother plant. This can be a problem if you want disease resistance, uniform berry or cluster size, or condensed harvest times. Elderberry cuttings will produce the same characteristics as the plant that it was taken from. There are many new varieties of elderberry that are more suited to the Midwest than older ones and much better than wild elderberry plants.


We now have cuttings available to purchase from our farm beginning in late February to early March. We grow American Elderberries and if you are interested in starting some of your own, contact us to get some cuttings. Below are steps for how to grow them!

The Water Method (We use this method)

Place your trimmings (angled cut side down) in a mason jar and add water until they are halfway submerged. The buds on the bottom will become roots. The buds on the top will create leaves and eventually flowers. Place the jar in a sunny area for 6-8 weeks, changing the water often. We use large buckets for this purpose but it depends on how many you are trying to start, so mason jars may work fine for your purpose.

Spritz the trimmings with water occasionally – elderberry bushes love a humid environment.

Roots grown in water are more fragile than ones grown in soil, so wait until they look very sturdy before transferring.

When they’re ready and there is not risk of freezing temperatures, plant the elderberry bush into quality soil – the kind that you’d use in a vegetable garden – with good drainage. We typically plant our cuttings into pots with a good quality soil and let them grow in pots for a period of time until we are ready to plant them. We recommend taking this additional step so you can watch them more closely, water them well or move them indoors in the case of a late freeze.

The Soil Method

Place your trimmings (cut side down) in a mason jar and add water until they are halfway submerged.

Allow them to soak for 12-24 hours and then transfer them to pots filled with good, organic soil. (The kind you would use in a vegetable garden.)

Keep the pots moist so that the cuttings don’t dry out. They need a humid environment to encourage growth, so either:

· Place them in a greenhouse

· Place a plastic bag over the top to trap in moisture and create a greenhouse-like effect, then set the pot in a sunny area.

The trimmings will send out leaves and then grow roots – at about the 6-8 week mark, gently tug on the cutting to assess root development. If they seem like they need more time that’s okay – it can take six to twelve weeks to see significant root growth.

Once the cuttings are well established and there is not risk of freezing temperatures, it’s time to plant the elderberry cane (roots intact) into the soil.


Plant spacing recommended for growing elderberry plants is typically 4 feet apart and if in rows, the rows are generally 10-12 feet apart. Ten feet may seem like a wide aisle in the beginning but after the plants have matured is only wide enough for a lawn mower with a large deck. The side branches will often be disturbed when mowing a 10 foot aisle elderberry planting. Choose a spot where they can grow as you desire as they will multiply quickly over the years. But you can mow around them to keep them from spreading to areas where you do not wish to have them.


An elderberry plant needs a rainfall of 1 inch per week during spring and summer. If one inch of rain doesn't fall during a given week you should give the plant 1 gallon of water. Watering needs for a 1-2 year old plant should be monitored very closely, as occasionally during the heat of summer the soil will dry out further than its roots can reach within a few days. A 3-4 year old mature elderberry can go a bit longer without having water but production will suffer.


Although you may see elderberry plants growing in partial shade, elderberry plants prefer full sun.


Elderberry plants spread by sucker roots, and can become invasive only if left unchecked. If regular mowing is done beside the plant it will not spread beyond where you are mowing. Cows, goats and pigs will all destroy elderberry plants.


Fully rooted elderberries should be planted in the spring or fall for success. Regardless of the season, unless you are planting an ornamental like the Black Lace or Lemony Lace elderberry, you want to choose a site that will allow the plant to get as much as 12 feet tall and 8-10 feet across as well.

Regardless of the type of elderberry you are planting, the site should receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day and remember; Elderberry likes water!

If you are considering planting the shrub in a location that will make it difficult or impossible to water every week, make sure that spot is near a creek or drainage ditch that drains areas above it so that the plant gets every opportunity for a good drink as often as nature will allow. Most thriving wild-growing elderberries can be found growing on creek banks and drainage ditches for this very reason.

All elderberries enjoy a good loamy soil. Loamy soils are those that drain well and contain the nutrients plants need to grow. The best way to create a loamy soil in your garden is to add organic matter to it every year. Adding peat moss is a great way to start them out when you initially plant them.

Since you’ll be planting your elderberry in a hole and hopefully not moving it again, we recommend digging a hole two feet deep and two to three feet wide for your elderberry. Once all the soil is removed from the hole, mix enough high-quality organic compost into the soil so that the resulting mixture is about 50% organic compost and 50% soil removed from the ground.

Return enough soil to the hole so that the elderberry bush, when planted, will be even with the soil grade around it. Remove your elderberry bush from its pot and inspect the roots. Healthy roots should be white to cream colored, and some may even have a bit of a fuzzy appearance.

If the plant is root-bound, (all you can see is a tangle of roots growing in a spiral), gently rough up the outside of the root ball to encourage the roots to grow outwards instead of in the spiral.

Place the unpotted elderberry into the hole, again checking to make sure that the top of the elderberry’s roots will be either even with or just slightly below the surrounding grade. Do not plant your elderberry high as it will dry out too often.

Return enough of the mixed soil and organic matter to the hole to fill it and, using your fist or your feet, gently tamp the soil down all around the elderberry to make sure the roots are in contact with soil. Add about a gallon of water and allow the water to percolate out. When the water has drained thoroughly, top dress the elderberry with a 2-3 inch layer of bark mulch or rotting hay.

During your elderberry bushes’ first season you want to pinch off the flowers so that the elderberry can devote its energy to developing a strong root system. Use them to make syrup, tea or lemonade. Check out recipes for the flowers online so nothing is wasted!

We hope we have encouraged you to add American Elderberry to your diet, whether you grow them yourself or purchase from a responsible farm or distributor!

Want to try some homemade syrup or tea? You can check out our Elderberry Tea and Elderberry DIY Syrup here!

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