Let’s Grow Some Elderberries!

— Written By Donna Teasley and last updated by
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Wild elderberries are a common sight in Burke County and can often be seen growing along roads and ditches. They have become increasingly popular because of their high vitamin and anti-oxidant content and they contain more vitamin C than oranges. Elderberry has historically been used to treat respiratory ailments. Both the flowers and the berries are edible making it an all-purpose plant to have in the home garden.

The two most common elderberries are the European and American elderberries. The berries of both can be used for juices, jellies, jams, pies and wines but the American elderberry is a larger fruit producer and is also a more manageable size, growing to around 12 feet tall. It should be noted that the raw berries are astringent and inedible, but after cooking they become sweet and earthy tasting. Elderberry flowers can also be eaten.

Two different varieties are needed for pollination and the most commonly found cultivars in home gardens are ‘Adams’ and ‘John’. Plants should be about ten feet apart and the berries should appear in the second year after planting. They need a well-drained soil and absolutely will not grow in poorly drained areas. They do well in raised beds. The roots are shallow so cultivation should be kept at a minimum and a light mulch is beneficial.

Harvest takes place in August and September. Take off the entire cluster of berries at one time and store in the refrigerator. Insects and diseases pose very few problems to elderberries but birds are another matter. Birds find the berries irresistible but netting is successful at keeping them out of your harvest.