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

Shannon Lauderdale ~ Elderberry Edge Farm 12/18/2015

The American elderberry [Sambucus nigra ssp canadensis], 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)

Identifying Characteristics of the American Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra canadensis).

• Identify American Elderberry by Stems and Branches

elderberry caneYou can identify an elderberry plant by the characteristics on the stems and branches. So even if it is not berry or flower season you will 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.


• Identify American Elderberry by Leaves

elderberry leavesElderberry can be identified by the characteristics on the 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.






• Identify American Elderberry by 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 typically bloom the first week of June at my farm in Missouri. 


elderflower close up
Flowers from my farm are dried and made into this delicious herbal tea.
• Elderberry Identification ~ Berries

Green ElderberriesElderberry berries start out as flowers and then change from green to deep purple/ blackish berries when ripe. Although it is easy to identify an elderberry in berry stage, elderberry plants are not always easy to spot in the berry stage because they blend in with the scenery. From flowers to ripe berries takes about 6-8 weeks. Berries ripen in late July and August in MO. 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.

elderberrieselderberry rows

Berries from my farm are used in making unique elderberry herbal tea, available after August harvest until sell out.  

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