Elderberry bushes are easy to grow and have medicinal uses. But one should know their elderberry bush variety. People should know how to process the fruit and use caution. The stems are poisonous so make sure you clear the stems, also some varieties state you need to cook prior to consuming. Here are two great articles that discuss elderberry. ************************** Elderberry Elderberry | Foraging for Wild Edibles The rounded flower clusters, also called elderblow, may be six inches or more. Common elderberries bear clusters of small dark purple berries that ripen mid-summer to early fall. The only edible parts of the elderberry are the berries and flowers. Leaves, stems, bark and roots are very toxic, so it's important to be vigilant about not including any of these when preparing elderberry for food. The berries, bark and leaves have been used traditionally in medicinal preparations. Watch out for Hercules' club which bears leaves and poisonous black berries that resemble those of elderberries. Hercules' club's berry clusters are flat instead of round, and the stems are covered in thorns, while elderberry is smooth. Elderberry | Foraging for Wild Edibles Norm's Farm Are Elderberry Bushes Poisonous? Varieties of Elderberry Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra spp canadensis) is the species best known for its culinary and medicinal uses. The Black Elderberry in its various forms grows throughout the world and is known by those who cherish it by many different names. Common names for the Black Elderberry include Elder, Common Elder, American Elder, European Elder, Sureau, Holunderbeeren, Sambucus, Sambuci, Sauco, Holunder, Ellhorn and Boor Tree, to name a few. The European Elder (Sambucus nigra L.) is a deciduous shrub that grows between twenty and thirty feet tall and can be pruned and trained into a tree form. It prefers a cool climate and is common in hedgerows in Ireland and England, and is cultivated for commercial use throughout Europe. The American Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L. ssp. canadensis), also a deciduous shrub, rarely exceeds 13 feet in height and is more shrub-like. The American elderberry is hardy throughout the US and Canada in zones 3 to 8. Commonly found growing wild in low-lying areas, along streams and lakes, in fence rows, in ditches and along road sides, too, the American elderberry produces new suckers each year and will form dense hedges. Both varieties produce the deep purple/black berries (hence the name), used in wines, extracts, syrups and in pies, jams and other foods. A common misperception is that the European Elder is the edible variety of Black Elderberry and that the American Elder is not edible, or does not contain the same constituents for which the European Black Elderberry is known. In fact, they are now considered to be different varieties of the same genus-species, and current research on the American Black Elderberry indicates that it may actually contain more of the anthocyanin's and polyphenols thought to give elderberry its health benefits. The seeds, stems, leaves and roots of the Black Elder are all poisonous to humans. They contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside. Eating a sufficient quantity of these cyanide-inducing glycosides can cause a toxic buildup of cyanide in the body and make you quite ill. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even coma. Most people recover quickly, although hospitalization may be required. The fruit of the elderberry is a tiny berry, about 1/8 to ¼ inch in diameter, and about 50% of the berry is seed. Cooking the berries destroys the glycosides present in the seeds, making the berries with their seeds safe to eat. As such, the fruit of the Black Elderberry should always be cooked before consumption. Interestingly, research indicates that exposing elderberry to heat actually concentrates the polyphenols and anthocyanin's. Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemona var. racemona) earns its name from the bright red berries it produces. This variety of elderberry is restricted to cool, moist sites along the coastal mountain range extending from California north to Washington, and from Newfoundland to Alaska. It can also be found in the Appalachian highlands of Georgia and Tennessee. Red Elderberry does not do well in warm climates. Growing 9 to 12 feet tall, some references say that the fruit from red elderberries are edible; other references say that they are not. According to the Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 30, Issue 6, June 2003 issue, excavations of a late Holocene village uncovered tens of thousands of red elderberry seeds, leading researchers to believe that red elderberry was a diet staple of the native peoples living there. Most people believe that the seeds of the red elderberry must be removed before the berry is safe to eat, and that the berries should be cooked as well. The rest of the plant is considered toxic and should not be eaten. Blue Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana or Sambucus nigra var. caerulea), is commonly called Mexican elderberry. Blue Elderberry will grow in USDA Zones 6-10 and is native to California. It prefers canyon habitat in sunny, well-drained locations at elevations of up to 9000 feet. Historically, Blue Elderberry was highly prized by both the Spaniards and Cahuillas as an important food staple and resource. Native peoples would head to the hills in July and August when the fruit of the blue elderberry was ripening. The berries were harvested, carefully dried and preserved in considerable amounts. A favorite use of the dried blue elderberries was to cook them down into a rich sauce called “Sauco”. Only fully ripe berries should be consumed, and again, cooking the berries destroys the glycosides present in the seeds which can cause nausea and other gastro-intestinal upset. While the other parts of this plant have been used for everything from making baskets to flutes, all are toxic and should not be eaten. Ornamental Elderberry There are many cultivars of elderberry grown for the beauty they lend to the landscape. The lacy cut-leaved form named “Laciniata” and “Dart’s Greenlace” look similar to the finely cut Lace Leafed Japanese Maple. The purple leafed varieties named “Purpurea”, “Guincho Purple” and “Black Beauty” bare beautiful pink flowers and are quite striking. All in all there are over 40 elderberry cultivars grown specifically for their ornamental qualities. These beauties produce berries that are edible when cooked, and again, the rest of the plant is toxic and should not be eaten. Are Elderberry Bushes Poisonous? On the right side of this site, there are a few other article regarding elderberry bushes. Norm's farm has done a great job discussing this plant.