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potential for toxicity ???

 
gardener
Posts: 2007
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Hi John, so glad to have an elderberry reference visiting!  I have shopped for elderberry plants to buy, with the idea of harvesting them for my own use.  I find disclaimers and warnings about the toxicity of all parts of the plant, toxicity of some varieties, toxicity of any uncooked part of the plant, and so on.  Can you clarify this issue for me?  Surely a plant with such a long history of human use must have some easy rules for us to follow, to keep us safe.  Or are all these warnings more a reflection of nurseries' concerns of liability?

Many thanks,
 
pollinator
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Elderberries are hard to grow for me. I hope you have better luck than me Thekla. I had never heard they were toxic so subbing on this post so I can find out too.
 
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Thelka,
If you read the plants history, the warnings are for good reason.   Elder contains cyanide forming compounds, alkaloids, and perhaps a few other groups of potentially dangerous components.  Some of these dangerous components are also why the plant is so medicinal.  

Thus historical preparations followed strict rules, so you want a good guide if you get into herbal crafting with other parts of the elder.   cyanide is actually a lot easier to deal with than most other highly dangerous chemicals - it vaporizes at about 70 degrees F, so is not too hard to remove from plant parts.  

All parts of the plant are generally considered toxic.  The one exception is research that I believe still hasn't been released by UofMo showing some cultivars of canadensis produce berries that when fully ripe are free of any cyanide.  

Hope this helps,

 
pollinator
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The toxin in the elderberry plant is one that's destroyed by cooking. As long as your preparation is heated to or near boiling at some point in the process, you should be good.

The toxin is also a relatively mild one. Even if you were to try eating a raw elderberry leaf salad, you'd throw it up long before you ingested enough to kill you.

There are a few foods that are toxic when raw. Raw dry beans are also toxic, but safe when cooked properly. Several years ago there was a problem with bean dishes making people sick at potlucks. It turned out that the early versions of slow-cookers and crock pots didn't always get to the right temperature. The beans would get hot enough to soften and to taste cooked, but not hot enough to destroy the toxin. That toxin needed a higher temperature than the one in elderberries, I believe.

The toxins found naturally in foods is a fascinating rabbit hole to go down sometimes.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Wow, so many replies already! Thanks

I have steam extracted fresh elder berries for the juice, and know many who make elderberry tea and syrup.  I can't  think of any "raw" uses, so maybe we are already protected by cultural dos and don'ts.

I was really wondering if there were any identified varieties or species that are considered safe for raw ingestion, or any that were considered UNSAFE whether cooked or not, like red elderberries, blue elderberries, Canadian, European, and American elderberries, ornamental, lace-leaf, and dozens of horticultural cultivars.

I am glad to know it is cooked or uncooked that divides toxic from nontoxic

again, thanks
 
JohnW Moody
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Thekla,
Just to be clear, it appears some canadensis may be safe to consume raw. I believe the Midwest Elderberry Cooperative posted a synopsis of the hopefully forthcoming full research release.
 
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