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Identify the American Elderberry by leaves, bark, berries or flowers

Correct Identification of the American Black Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). This type of elderberry is a species native to a large area of North America east of the Rocky Mountains, and south through eastern Mexico and Central America to Panama. It can grow in a variety of conditions including both wet and dry soils, primarily in sunny locations. The American Black Elderberry is deemed hardy in zones 3-8. 

 Elderberry hardiness zones American Black Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

If you miss this blooming stage and want to make an elderberry identification look for some of these other characteristics below


• Elderberry Identification ~ Stems and Branches

elderberry caneYou can identify an elderberry plant by looking at the stems and branches. So even if it is not berry or flower season you can know. The first year of growth on the plant will be green stems. Growth older than a year will have bark. Each elderberry plant typically has a mixture of both green stems and branches with bark.  The plant usually stands about 3-8 feet high and is dependent on plant age. The most prominent difference that will help you to identify the elderberry by the stems and branches alone is the bumps on the woody bark. If you look closely at the woody stems you will notice many tiny bumps. The older bigger stems will also have vertical furrows, similar to stretch marks.   An elderberry plant older than a year can be identified by its bush or shrub-like appearance and it should have several branches coming from near the base.


• Elderberry Identification ~ Leaves

elderberry leavesElderberry can be identified by its leaves, which are oblong and have ‘sawtooth’ sharply serrated edges. They are arranged in opposite pairs with 5 to 7 leaves on each stem. The veins of the leaf are most prominent as they leave the lighter green midrib. The veins tend to fade off and narrow as they reach the edge of the leaf and there is NOT the noticeable characteristic of the vein ending in the valley of the sawtooth edges.






• Elderberry Identification ~ Flowers

elderflowers in bloomElderberry identification is by far the easiest in the flower stage. The elderberry plant produces a flattened cluster of up to 10 inches in diameter of tiny creamy white flowers. The flowers have rounded tipped petals and there are five petals for each tiny flower. There will typically also be 5 thin white filament tubes arising from near the center of the flower and ending in a pale yellow tip although there may be only 3 or 4 tips arising from the interior of the flower. Flowers bloom in late spring.elderflowerselderflower close up

• Elderberry Identification ~ Berries

Green ElderberriesElderberry berries start out as flowers then change from green to deep purple/ blackish berries when ripe. From flowers to ripe berries takes about 6-8 weeks. Berries ripen in late July and August.The elderberries are about 1/8th of an inch in diameter or the size of a BB. The tip of the rounded berry will have a bump where it was formed from the flower. The taste is a bit tart and they are not to be eaten RAW, more than a few can make you nauseous. Berries grow in a flat cluster up to 10 inches in diameter. Elderberries are easily confused with other berries which may be poisonous always make sure what you think is an elderberry IS an elderberry plant and always cook elderberries before consuming.

elderberrieselderflowers in bloomelderberry rows


Elderberry types [species].

The word elderberry is often used as a general term. Here are four popular types of elderberry you may encounter.  

  • American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
  • European or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
  • Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemona var. racemona)
  • Blue Elderberry~pictured above, (Sambucus mexicana or Sambucus nigra var. caerulea)

American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) This species is grown mainly in United States and Canada. It is considered to be a different variety of the same genus-species of the European elderberry and current research on the American Elderberry indicates that it may actually contain more of the anthocyanin's and polyphenols thought to give elderberry its health benefits. 

Examples of older elderberry varieties and release date ‘Adams 1’, ‘Adams 2’ (1926) ‘Ezyoff’ (1934)  ‘York’ (1964) – ‘Johns’ (1954) –  ‘Kent’ (1957) ‘Nova’ (1959) ‘Scotia’ (1959) ‘Victoria’ (1957)

Examples of new elderberry varieties (more suited to Midwest) Wyldewood (2010)  Bob Gordon (2011) 


European or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra)  Is common in hedgerows in Ireland and England and cultivated for commercial use throughout Europe. This is the type that the most medical research has been done on. More of a tree than a shrub, does not adapt well to North America.  Examples ‘Allesso’ ,‘Korsor’, & Samdal’ 

Interested in purchasing dried European or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra)? We have them in the Farm Store


RED ELDERBERRY (Sambucus racemona var. racemona) Native to Europe but found in United States and Canada. Used primarily as an ornamental plant.   Examples ~ Black Lace' burgundy foliage. 'Lemon Lace' — golden yellow and green foliage. 'Lemony Lace' — golden green foliage, with red new growth. &  'Sutherland Gold' — green foliage, with bronze new growth 


Blue elderberry (S. caerulea) Is also known as the Mexican Elderberry. It is native to northwest coast of the United States, northwestern Mexico, and British Colombia. Has been know to survive in parts of TX, OK, WY, and MT.  Often used as ornamental plant. The blue berries have a white powder like coating. Eatable however medicinal qualities are unknown. 



No type of elderberry should be consumed raw or without first checking with your Doctor.