Close up of a bunch of elderberries on the stems sitting on a large elderberry tree leaf

Black Elderberry and Its Environment

Black Elderberry, is native to Europe and Asia and Northern Africa. It has been described as a health remedy since the 5th Century AD. It also had culinary uses as well. Its latin name is Sambucus nigra. It can grow up to 20 feet high and 20 feet wide. It is usually a shrub, but can be pruned into a tree with branching trunks. 

It can be found in meadows or on the edges of gardens and hedgerows.  It likes being situated near water but doesn’t like the ground to be soggy.  It forms thickets, which are like a young forest where the plants are closely packed and hard to get through. It can grow invasively, but can be kept under control by cutting the root sprouts, also called suckers on its edges.  Incidentally, you can also make a new plant by cutting a part off the root and replanting it, but the sucker can make a  whole new plant more conveniently.

Exploring the Features and Significance of Sambucus Nigra (Black Elderberry)

The Sambucus nigra has several subspecies that can technically still be called black elderberry. They have compound leaves situated opposite each other on the stem and depending on the variety have 3 to 11leaflets that have serrated edges.

The nice thing about picking elderberries or elderflowers is that there are no thorns anywhere on the plant so you can get to the deeper branches with no fear of getting stabbed or snagging your clothes. The flowers can be harvested in the early summer and the ones you don't harvest will turn into berries in early fall.

Close up of a bunch of black elderberries on an elder tree

It has an inflorescence that looks like round flat topped bouquets dotted all over the green foliage. Remember inflorescence is the flower pattern arrangement as opposed to just the individual flower. There is a whole language that plant people and scientists use to classify all these patterns. I spare you this except if it's part of the latin name like it was in the black cohosh, cimicifuga racemosa. 

Unlike the racemes on the black cohosh which have the oldest flowers on the lower part of the stem and the youngest at the apex which allows unlimited growth which spills out all over, the black elderberry's inflorescence is limited or “determinant” because the first flower is on the end of the stem and newer flowers form below it so the size of the round bunch stays limited to that shape so it is much neater pattern.

The flowers are a creamy white, 5 rounded petals with 5 long stamens and prominent yellow anthers that produce the pollen.  The pistils of the flower (the female parts) are not very noticeable and most who describe the flower neglect to mention that they are there and that the flower is hermaphroditic.

Close up of elderberry flowers on a tree

Hermaphroditic means that both the male and female reproductive organs are present. In a hermaphroditic flower they are in the same flower, as opposed to having only male and female flowers on the plant which makes the plant hermaphroditic, but not the flower. This is because the plant has both sexes, but the flowers only one. See? And as you might know some plants like the Ginkgo have the two sexes on separate plants, male and female trees. In that case nothing is hermaphroditic.

Cross pollination with other plants is always preferable, but sometimes there is no other plant around to reproduce with and being hermaphroditic ensures that the black elder can spread without those limitations and it has all over the temperate zones of the world.

As mentioned the plant has both health and culinary uses, but oddly enough, the latin name does not reflect these, but tells of its musical history. It was sometimes called the music tree. Sambucus is from the Greek sambuce which was an ancient flute-like instrument which was made specifically from the black elderberry. Native Americans also made flutes from the branches of elderberry bushes. The branches are hollow and pithy and it is easy to poke holes into it for the finger holes. Nigra as you probably guessed means black because the berries are a purplish black when they are ripe.

American Black Elderberry: Uses, Varieties, and Cautionary Notes

In the United States we have the American black elderberry, a subspecies, Sambucus nigra subsp.canadensis. This is often just shortened to Sambucus canadensis (that happens a lot with the black elderberry subspecies. I guess because the name is already long). This is a smaller variety but with more complex leaves.  It only grows 10 to 12 feet high and wide, but its leaves have 5 to 11 leaflets as opposed to the larger Sambucus nigra which has 3 to 7 leaflets. 

Although it may have medicinal properties the main use of the American black elderberry is for its flowers and berries to make syrups, jellies, pies, and wines and cordials. I can just taste that elderberry wine! Once you taste it you never forget it. 

Cordials are a concentrated sweet drink. They can be either alcoholic or non-alcoholic. They can be dessert liqueurs, concentrated juices or herbal health remedies. Cordial means warm and friendly and I have found it does have the effect of warming the heart when you drink it.  And the word cordial, not surprisingly, is from the latin word for heart.

Lately, I have discovered that people dip the whole flower bouquet into batter and fry it on its flat head and it makes a delicious dessert, especially if dipped into elderberry syrup. You just have to taste that delicious elderberry taste. It is not easily described.

There is also a subspecies in the Pacific Northwest of the United States that ranges down the coast of California to a specific part of Mexico, the Sambucus cerulea. It is commonly called Blue Elderberry or Mexican Elderberry. It is larger than the Sambucus nigra. It can grow up to 30 feet and is the number one source of food for California birds. This subspecies however can not be eaten in any large quantity by humans because it has a concentration of cyanide compounds, one of which more easily converts to pure cyanide.

Is Black Elderberry Dangerous?

Actually all elderberry plants have some cyanide compounds and this is the rare instance when it is better to cook the berry rather than eating it raw.  Using an extract of the berry can also make it safe. Cooking this berry doesn't lose the taste like usual, but instead enhances the taste.

Nobody has cited this, but I wonder if the cyanide glycosides contribute to elderberry's ability to help people with their immune challenges by killing unwanted intruders, but then I am getting ahead of myself.

Cultivars to create more luscious berries and flowers abound across the temperate zones of the United States, but that is a subject for another time. If you are looking for the health properties, the good ol' original Sambucus nigra is your choice. 

Elderberry: A Tale of Reverence, Folklore, and Historical Uses

The black elderberry was revered by both the Native American and European Herbalists. It must have been if they gave it the name elder because that is a term of respect and reverence.  But then again some people say that elder refers to an old Anglo Saxon word that meant fire because the hollow stems of the branches were used as bellows to blow air into a fire. Well that’s kind of consistent with the wind instrument idea from the Greeks.

There is a lot of folklore about the Black Elderberry. Some of it is scary stories of Mother Elder and what happened to babies and households when elderwood was taken to make their cradles and other things with the wood not being properly asked for and other stories include loving protection of the home and garden from witches and the elements including lightning and deer and horse flies. It was a blessing if Old Mother Elder appeared along the edge of your garden as a guardian to protect your farm, family and home.

If a person wanted to take elderberry wood from a tree they had to recite the following:

"Old Woman, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when I grow into a tree.”

Apparently she had a sense of humor and just wanted to be properly acknowledged. Back then people were encouraged to not use elderberry for firewood but rather save it for its other better uses spanning music, health remedies, the kitchen and supernatural protection. Ironically, now it is often treated as a weed and mowed down with chainsaws, but many still have love and respect.

Historically various parts of the plant were used by herbalists.  It was used to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, to encourage healthy perspiration and healthy fluid levels in the body.  And during bouts of diarrhea it was used to restore healthy bowel movements. 

Close up of a small bunch of elderberries on the stems on a white background

Unlocking the Diverse Benefits of Black Elderberry: From Immune Support to Vitality and Balance"

After the berries became known to support the immune system, that became the concentration and what black elderberry is mostly known for. But recent research is pointing to a much wider benefit range, like:

Keeping the body from over-reacting to tissue stresses. Keeping tissue strong and breaking down things that could weaken tissues. Remember tissues make up all of your internal organs and even your skin, inside and out.

It also keeps the DNA intact, which keeps cells replicating in a healthy normal way.

Regulation of certain hormones, increasing fertility and prevention of reproductive problems. There is a lot of potential in researching this because it is currently an increasing problem.

It is beneficial in sugar metabolism which keeps things going right and healthy.

It does the same for fat metabolism which has an effect on the whole body through keeping the circulatory system clean and making membranes, connective tissue and skin.

Much research still has to be done because no research has been done beyond the test tube with individual ingredients. But a lot of people have tried it out on themselves and they report all kinds of benefits. Like I always say, why wait for the scientists when you can find out the most important thing-- what it can do for You.

Black Elderberry is absolutely packed with phytochemicals, so scientists are having a hard time determining what component does what benefit. But if you have read my blogs for any length of time you know that the synergy of all of them is where it's at, so don't be concerned about it and take in the whole berry fortified with an extract to fix the cyanide problem while keeping the nutritional power intact and high.

Just to mention something about components, black elderberry is rich in carbohydrates that get used up, not stored. It is rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron and potassium. It has some amount of practically all other vitamins. It is rich in fatty acids including linoleic and alpha linolenic acids. Its phytochemicals include flavonoids, terpenoids, alkaloids and phenolic acids. Most of its phytochemicals are polyphenols, which of course include most of the above classes of compounds.

The most abundant polyphenol in black elderberry is rutin, a bioflavonoid. There is also hyperoside, quercetin and pretty much all the bioflavonoid heavy hitters. The elderberry has more antioxidant capacity than blueberries, bilberries and many others. The sheer abundance of rutin and its ability to make vitamin C work as well as quenching huge amounts of free radicals points to its role in many of the benefits listed above.

Anthocyanidins, which give black elderberry its color, overlap in producing the above effects as well as its role in cardiovascular health. It is involved with production of NO, good ol' nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to relax and fully dilate.


By now I think you could agree that Black Elderberry is a wonderful tasting superfood. Who wouldn't want healthy glowing skin and a healthy relaxed body that just works better. Oh I almost forgot, Black elderberry can be taken everyday and it gets stored up in the body proofing you against the winter season and anything like the world situation we experienced in recent years. It is as easy as clicking below to get yourself some. We look forward to your testimonials.

Bottle of Herbal Roots black elderberry with capsules on either side of the bottle and a small pile of fresh elderberries on the left

Herbal Roots provides the equivalent of 4,300mg of this fresh black elderberry per serving. That’s in the form of dried fruit powder and the more powerful 4 to 1 extract to give that serving the maximum power without missing out on the unnamed but possibly important natural nutrients.  There is nothing like Mother Nature’s recipe.

*This article is intended for informational purposes. The statements above have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


Rosalie Roder got her Bachelors' degrees in Chemistry and Biology from Mary Baldwin University in 1983. After graduation, with that background, her real education on natural health and healing and human potential began. It is a never ending study and she is always happy to share what she has found out so far.