Local Forages: Blue Elderberry

Local Forages
Commonly found wild & cultivated edible plants to use in the kitchen

Featured plant:
Blue Elderberry

(Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea)


Blue Elderberry's large, cream-colored flower heads in spring are followed in summer by clusters of juicy, deep blue berries high in vitamin C. Our local variety is related to elderberry species around the world and its berries are considered among the best. Blue Elderberry is a deciduous, semiwoody, large shrub to small tree with compound green leaves comprising five to nine leaflets per stem; the entire leaf is 6 to 8 inches long. It can be a single-trunked small tree or a multitrunked shrub.



Elderberries are found in many parts of California, from suburban backyards and along freeways to remote woodland edges. They can grow in full sun to part shade as well as damp areas and can be used for making hedges.  Berry ripening and bloom times depend on where in California you live.  On the coast, flowers can be cut in late May through July, with fruit ripening from late July to August.


Remember, eat only the flowers and berries, and eat the berries only when fully ripe.  Stems, leaves, and twigs are toxic and should not be included in any elderberry preparation.  NOTE: All parts of Red Elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) are toxic. To separate the berries from the stems, put the whole flower head in the freezer.  When frozen, the berries separate easily from the stems. Drying the berries brings out their sweetness and flavor, eliminating the bitterness found in the fresh fruit. Elderberries are good in baked goods as well in sauces, syrups, and jellies and even in winemaking (combine with the wild grape to add acidity).
Elderflowers have also been a long time remedy for colds, flus, and fevers used as teas or salves.

The details above were excerpted from:
California Foraging by Judith Larner Lowr

We also suggest making syrup with the flowers!  There are plenty of recipes online, this article is very descriptive!