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Which elderberries cannot be eaten raw?

 
pollinator
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Hi John. I saw a presentation you did about elderberries at an online summit last year (sorry, can't remember which one, but I think you may also have done one on sweet potatoes), and really enjoyed it.

My grandparents had elderberries on the old farm and I'm looking forward to growing some myself when I can get out in the country again.

Could you refresh my memory about which elderberries are the ones that cannot be eaten raw? I think you said the European elderberry must be cooked before eating?
 
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There are four main elders for our purposes - nigra (european), canadensis (American, mainly east of Rockies), blue (cerulea) and red (racemosa).  

All parts of the elder(Berry) contain cyanide and other problematic (and medicinally beneficial) compounds, such as alkaloids.  Some parts have especially concentrated amounts, like the roots.  Concentration in certain plant parts also varies over the growing season and because of other factors.  Using the various parts of the elder as medicine have a long history, but require care to follow preparation methods dutifully.

Cyanide is relatively easy to deal with, as it vaporizes at around 70 degrees fahrenheit.  Fermentation temperatures and length of time or cooking both easily achieve this if of sufficient duration and temperature.   For crafting with elder, the wood was generally dried (not used green) and sometimes exposed to sun/heat to ensure removal of cyanide and thus the creation of a safe final product.  

Many animals that have developed defenses against elderberry eat all the parts of the plant or certain parts.  Domesticated animals generally are not impacted by elder, as its naseaua inducing effect usually quickly trains them to avoid the plant, but care should be taken if your animals will have access to your elder.  

Red is generally considered the most toxic. Nigra is also generally considered toxic in all plant parts.  

There is some evidence that the fully ripe berries of canadensis (or at least some cultivars of canadensis) are free of cyanide.  This research is pending publication.  


 
Molly Kay
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Thank you, John. I was going to follow-up with a question about chickens, so I'm glad you mentioned the animals.
 
JohnW Moody
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I may slightly edit the above, care should be taken when feeding domesticated animals elderberries.   The same rules apply as for people!  I had in mind ruminant type animals going after the  leaves, wood, bark, etc.  not so much chickens and berries - in small amounts they should do fine on canadensis and blue.  
 
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Hmm...So can one eat ANY elderberry raw/straight off the shrub?

thank you for your time
 
JohnW Moody
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No, Ben.  Only canadensis and perhaps only some canadensis  (and perhaps blue) are safe to consume, in moderation, if you tolerate them well, straight off the bush.

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