How to Identify Elderberry Plants & Fruit

Written by bethney foster
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The elderberry and its fruit have had great value throughout the history of North America. Native Americans used the elderberry for several purposes, including the use of its branches in the making of flutes and arrows. In the Middle Ages, the elderberry came to be known as a Holy Tree that could restore and maintain health. Still growing wild, the elderberry's fruit is harvested to make wines, jams and pies. The flower petals are eaten raw or made into tea. Identifying the elderberry is relatively easy if you know a few key indicators for which to look.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Elderberry bush

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  1. 1

    Consider where the shrub is growing. Elderberry is found along streams, riverbanks and other open areas near water. Elderberries are found from British Columbia to Mexico and have a wide distribution in the western United States.

  2. 2

    Look at the size of the shrub. Elderberries grow to 13 feet in height.

  3. 3

    Examine the bark of the shrub. Elderberry bark is smooth and grey in colour.

  4. 4

    Touch the branches of the shrub. The branches of elderberry bushes have bumps on them and have a texture similar to cork. If the branch is broken, white pith will be visible inside.

  5. 5

    Examine the leaves of the bush. The feather-compound leaves of the elderberry are 3 to 4 inches long, and leaves have coarse teeth along their edges, coming to a sharp point.

  6. 6

    Look for flowers on the bush. In the spring, tiny white lacy flowers will form in flattop clusters that are about 6 inches wide.

  7. 7

    Examine the bush for berries. The berries of the elderberry are blue or purple and are small---about an eighth of inch wide. The berries form in clusters and are visibly ripe from midsummer to early fall.

Tips and warnings

  • Elderberries are now commercially cultivated in Oregon.

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