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Elderberry - best way to grow, harvest and prepare

 
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Hey John,

Which is the best species of elderberry to grow? Are some partial to specific climates/soil types? Which harvesting and preparation methods yield the highest potency? Fresh berries vs. dried. Vs. fermented?

Thank you.
 
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Lee,
I would need specific info as to your location to suggest cultivars - there are now 30-40 some varieties available in the US between nigra and canadensis.   I suggest in my book to plant at least 4 and see who wins.  We planted 3 to start,and one clearly outperforms the other two by leaps and bounds.

All elder are water loving, so they generally don't like dry/sandy soils. Per potency, that is an area ripe for more research.   In general, harvest in the morning, just after the sun/day has dried the dew off the berries.  How you prepare really depends on how you want to store and what your plans are with the berries - freezing is great, but takes costly space. You can steam juice, which is excellent, but then requires further processing or freezing to make shelf stable.   You can dry then, etc. Again, really depends on your goals of what you plan to do with the berries/juice down the road how you may want to preserve them, and what infrastructure you have available for said storage.

Hope this helps!
 
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John Moody, welcome to Permies! My question is a growing question, so I think it falls within the parameters of this thread.

I planted elder bushes a number of years ago, and for the past couple of years it's been hard to harvest the top of the bushes. So just the other day I cut them back. Did I do the right thing? (Now's a fine time to ask, I know!)

Mostly I make jelly with my berries, but would like to make a medicinal syrup as well. Most years, however, there is heavy harvest competition from the birds, so getting more than a couple of gallons of berries is a challenge too.
 
JohnW Moody
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Yes.  Elder respond well to pruning. They bear better with proper pruning, and are healthier, along with you keeping harvest "within reach" as they say.  Some varieties (and growers) actually GROUND PRUNE the shrubs/plants each year!  Totally mow them to just 8-24 or so inches tall.   Ground pruning does require very good amendment practices (you are asking a lot OF the plant, so you need to provide a lot FOR the plant.)  My book goes over all the common major pruning methods.   At the best least, you can keep them 8 feet and under if you want, and remove old growth to use for crafts!



 
Leigh Tate
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Thank you! I cut them back to about 4 feet. I noticed some of them were sprouting new leaf buds along the stems, so I tried to preserve some of those. Your book definitely sounds like a "must have" for growers of elderberries.
 
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Hey John! Living in SE Arizona without a well to irrigate, we are very excited that the elderberry we purchased from a native plants nursery this last summer and planted under a mesquite in our floodwater-irrigated garden seems incredibly hardy. Commonly it's known as Mexican elder -- I think it's Sambucus cerulea or Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea -- and grows wild in various parts around here. I'd always known elder as a tree that likes wet feet, and there are very few such wet places around us, so I'm very happy that so far it seems pleased with its situation under a nurse tree near ditches that flood when it rains enough. Do we need to get it a partner in order to get fruit? When should it get its first pruning? Thank you!
 
JohnW Moody
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Beth, is yours a red elder then?  If so, those are the most toxic, just so you are aware.  

Generally yes, it is currently recommended to plant a number of elder for best yields.  

Yes, elder love ditches, flood areas, etc.  It is why across Europe they were used along roadways, fence lines, etc. - places that need the soil stabilized and take run off from other structures/human creations, like roads.
 
Beth Wilder
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JohnW Moody wrote:Beth, is yours a red elder then?  If so, those are the most toxic, just so you are aware.


No, I believe it's a black elder (nigra subspecies or however they're designating it now). The way I first heard it referred to was as a Mexican black elder, and the berries I've seen ripen to black just like they do on other varieties in other places I've lived further north and east in the U.S.
 
JohnW Moody
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Interesting, cerulea is usually used of blue elder.  

https://www.google.com/search?source=hp&ei=9Ig4XsvBCOnc5gLihKuQDw&q=sambucus+cerulea&oq=sambucus+cer&gs_l=psy-ab.3.0.0j0i22i30j0i22i10i30j0i22i30l2j0i22i10i30l4j0i22i30.61.1870..3521...0.0..0.336.1763.6j3j1j2......0....1..gws-wiz.......0i131.DWIrhpPhpUw

I would ask the nursery more, but I have often over the past few years looked at online listings for elderberry and found grievous errors in nursery and other seller info!
 
JohnW Moody
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Compare with what is normally called Mexican elder, http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/Plants%20of%20Upper%20Newport%20Bay%20(Robert%20De%20Ruff)/Caprifoliaceae/Sambucus%20mexicana.htm

 
Beth Wilder
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JohnW Moody wrote:Compare with what is normally called Mexican elder, http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/Plants%20of%20Upper%20Newport%20Bay%20(Robert%20De%20Ruff)/Caprifoliaceae/Sambucus%20mexicana.htm


Now I'm thoroughly confused! This sounds to me like it is describing what I thought was now called Sambucus cerulea or Sambucus nigra L. subsp. cerulea, a blue elder. (Wikipedia says that S. mexicana may refer to either S. canadensis or S. cerulea.) This may well be what our local species is, but how is it red? It seems like there's some distinction or set of distinctions you're making as an expert that I'm not understanding as an amateur. Could you please explain? Thank you!
 
JohnW Moody
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Beth,

My hunch is this - blue has a Mexican variant and a more northernly variant/family.   As you can see here, and is discussed elsewhere, there is a fair bit of uncertainty regarding some elder classifications,

https://www.laspilitas.com/nature-of-california/plants/620--sambucus-mexicana

"(Also known as Sambucus coerulea var. arizonica, Sambucus coerulea var. mexicana, Sambucus caeulea var. mexicana, Sambucus coriacea, Sambucus orbiculata, Sambucus velutina, Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea and you wonder why we're confused) "

At the end of the day, as long as you know what you have, that is all that matters!
 
Beth Wilder
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I will ask the nursery grower to be sure. He's a great guy, very knowledgable, one of my favorite folks: https://www.spadefootnursery.com/tree-selection-guide. So we have black and blue. Where does red come in? :) Thank you!
 
JohnW Moody
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Red, usually technically called racemosa, is the most poisonous.  



https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=sarar3

Even here if you read you will see differing info. The elder family is quite large!

http://nativeplantspnw.com/red-elderberry-sambucus-racemosa/
 
Beth Wilder
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JohnW Moody wrote:Red, usually technically called racemosa, is the most poisonous.  

https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=sarar3

Even here if you read you will see differing info. The elder family is quite large!

http://nativeplantspnw.com/red-elderberry-sambucus-racemosa/


OK, I gotcha. Thank you so much for explaining! I think it's kind of great to have a large family of edible and medicinal trees that has some mystery to it yet!
 
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Does anyone have experience with the Sambucus Mexicana. I'm in Southern California. Or do you discuss this species in your book?
 
JohnW Moody
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Kyle,
I have limited experience outside of nigra and canadensis.   I do touch on blue and mexicana (these are close relatives most likely).   But I am no expert on that particular subspecies.  Its use, growth, etc. is similar to the other elders.  
 
Lee Gee
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Hi John

I'll be growing in three different sites in the NE. One is hardpan clay in the process of being amended. The other two are well balanced and loamy. One a little bit sandier and hence drier than the other. Zones 7a/b, 6 and 6 bordering on 5.

Which cultivars do you recommend?

Thank you.
 
JohnW Moody
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Hey Lee,
I don't recommend any particular.  I tell people get 4-8 hardwood cuttings  of 4-6 varieties - plant them and see who wins.  While certain varieties are slightly better in certain climates - in the NE Adams, York, etc. were developed in that region or are from that region I believe - you really don't know which ones will do best for you until you try.  And new cultivars are coming out with increasing frequency with elderberry, like Marge.  

Hope this helps!
 
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I spent some time documenting the differences between the wild red elderberry and wild black elderberries on my 9 acre property. I have been propagating the wild black elderberries and adding in named varieties including Adams, Ranch, and Bob Gordon black elderberries.

I love using the flowers and berries of black elderberries. I soak berries in brandy with cinnamon sticks and dried rose hips. After a couple months I strain to remove solids and add honey. This is my winter tonic and my family loves it for a nightcap. I am interested to learn to make tonics without alcohol for children.

Black elderberry love!
Screenshot_20200204-072044_Instagram.jpg
elderberry buds
Dormant buds
Screenshot_20200204-072855_Instagram.jpg
elderberry leafing
Leafing out
Screenshot_20200204-073012_Instagram.jpg
elderberry blooming
Flower buds
Screenshot_20200204-073025_Instagram.jpg
elderflowers
Black in bloom
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elderberry rooting
Cuttings
 
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Hi John! Thanks for being here to answer questions! We just got some land and are looking at planting elderberries somewhere. We're in North Texas and the cleared part of our land is the highest point of the land plus the north and northwest side of the hill on the downslope. The difference between the top of the hill and the bottom of the hill is about 10 feet on the north side and 20 feet on the northwest side. The rest of the property is wooded. I've heard that elderberries need lots of water and a southern exposure. My thoughts at this point are to plant on the north side anyway, as water can be more easily directed down to that area than the top of the hill. Thanks for any advice you can give!
 
JohnW Moody
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Melanie,
Yes, elder need water.  Elder don't need any particular exposure - ours are on a hill that slopes down and north, instead of south.  You get best yields in full sun, but otherwise, elder are fairly flexible with placement.  More important is water, soil, etc.

 
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Hi!

I planted a black elderberry in my garden a few years ago and it's doing great! I always make small batches of jam but it's getting big enough now that it's a lot of jam. Everything I see about elderberries says they have to be cooked to be edible. Can I dry/dehydrate the berries and toss them into my oatmeal or into granola? Or does drying them not count as cooked and it would be a bad idea?

Thanks!
 
JohnW Moody
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Stephanie,
This is a complicated issue.  I will see if I can just pull that page from my book.   Partly, it is complicated because while most elder in the US are canadensis, some are nigra, and some have crossed possibly in the wild.   Canadensis may be cyanide free (recent research out of UofMO), but they only tested a few varieties I believe.


If you know you have a canadensis and you tolerate them that way well, you can consume them dried.   Just start small and see how you do!
 
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Hi, John.  I planted an elderberry two years ago.  Last year, it grew to about 15 feet tall and gave me 15 pounds of berries, more than I knew what to do with.  I could certainly appreciate recipes/uses for them.  Besides loving to cook, I'm also looking for more ways to use elderberries as herbal remedies.  I could also use any information on keeping the elderberry healthy.  Hari
 
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Hi John, welcome to Permies!!

Making elderberry syrup is one of my annual autumn prep for winter chores. My family and friends love that time of year. Because they love getting some of my syrup. We've lived on our homestead for 7 years and have been steadily adding more perrenials. Our orchard is really beginning to take off finally (started planting right after we moved in). I'm hoping we'll get the figs and elderberries into the front yard as soon as the soil amendments have enriched enough of the dirt that was laying here when we got here. I want to cover a BUNCH of my property with elderberry.

In your book, do you talk about the cultivar that is native to North America as well as the European cultivars?

With "alternative" medical "testing," I've learned that elderberry is a superfood for me and I have been scrounging furiously for recipes and ways to get those scrumptious little berries into my body!

Whether I win or purchase, I'm sure your book would be an invaluable reference in my permie library!

 
JohnW Moody
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Sig,
I do talk about both nigra and canadensis.  Nigra is a bit tricky to grow in some places of the US, though more nigra cultivars are showing promise for greater range.

 
JohnW Moody
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Hari,
Sky is the limit.  Soups, stews, marinades, syrups, wines, meads, crafts, dyes... in my main elder talk,I go over how this plant is one of the greatest "one stop shops" you could possibly get.  
 
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Welcome John.  With regards to the person who asked about pruning elderberries.  They are almost like a weed here.  I cut them down yearly and they keep coming back.  The harvesting is where I need help.  Do you have to get all of the stem off?  That seems pretty tedious.  I have heard about using a comb to pull the berries off of the stems, but don't have any personal experience with that.  Can you eat them off the bush?
I have it in my mind that Elderberry stems/stalks are poisonous?  I make my elderberry syrup with dried elderberries, rose hips, cinnamon, echinacea powder, ginger and anise.  I take doses every hour or two (when I remember) when I feel the onset of a cold.  I timed it and it seems to cut down the course of a cold from 10 days to 7.  It doesn't seem like much, but I'd rather have those three days without a cold than with.  Also, elderflower sounds interesting, but I hate to pick the flowers because each flower picked will not produce a berry.
 
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JohnW Moody wrote:Yes.  Elder respond well to pruning. They bear better with proper pruning, and are healthier, along with you keeping harvest "within reach" as they say.  Some varieties (and growers) actually GROUND PRUNE the shrubs/plants each year!  Totally mow them to just 8-24 or so inches tall.   Ground pruning does require very good amendment practices (you are asking a lot OF the plant, so you need to provide a lot FOR the plant.)  My book goes over all the common major pruning methods.   At the best least, you can keep them 8 feet and under if you want, and remove old growth to use for crafts!





Thanks for this! We have red elders growing in profusion all around our pond, and with their growth habit they are taking over the pond... their limbs droop lower and lower until they are growing horizontally out over the pond to capture as much sun as possible. I think a hard prune is in order.

I love red elder, especially when it is flowering.
 
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Will nigra and canadensis cross pollinate? Are there a lot of virtues of one over the other? I live in an area with wild blue elderberry, but I grow nova, york, and black lace at home
 
JohnW Moody
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Will they cross, current verdict is yes.   But since most propagation is done by cuttings, etc. it isn't spreading very quickly.  

Per virtues, the one major piece on the subject argues that they are basically bio-identical in terms of medicinal value.   Beyond that, we could have a long debate about other traits/characteristics, market/consumer preferences, flowers, etc.  

:)   So grow whatever ones you want to or want to try!
 
James Landreth
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Truthfully I will probably end up with all kinds. I tend to collect! But I wanted to know about pollination in case I'm setting something up in a backyard for someone
 
James Landreth
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One more similar question.

Will blue and black elderberry cross pollinate?
 
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