Growing, Harvesting, and Using Elderberries

Incorporate this low-maintenance plant into your landscape, and you’ll reap sweet rewards.

| Spring 2019

 elderberry
Ripe elderberries bring sweet rewards to gardeners. Photo by Getty Images/pejft.

If you’re searching for an easy-to-grow plant that gives back to you in many ways, consider the elderberry. I can’t think of any plant on my suburban farm that’s so versatile and trouble-free. With only minimal care, an elderberry plant will produce generous harvests of flowers and berries that you can turn into a wealth of culinary and medicinal creations, among others.

The Basics

Two species of elderberry are commercially grown, and therefore most available at nurseries as cuttings or plants.

The American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is native to the eastern half of the United States. It grows as a slow-spreading clump of canes 6 to 12 feet tall. There’s a lot of diversity among wild-growing elderberries, but generally they have smaller berries than the cultivars available at nurseries and garden centers. In my experience, it’s certainly worthwhile to plant some of the cultivars with larger berries.



The European elderberry (S. nigra) can be found in Great Britain and northern Europe, and is usually seen as a multi-stemmed shrub or small tree that grows up to 15 feet or more. As with the American elderberry, there’s a lot of diversity among wild

plants, but a number of named cultivars are available that have superior vigor, productivity, and berry size. An added bonus of the European cultivars is their fragrant flowers.






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