The Best Guide to Elderberry: It’ll Change your Life

In this blog we’ll explain the characteristics of elderberry, its main types, properties, history, main exporters and importers, how it is cultivated and some products made from this plant. Don’t miss it!  

What is elderberry and what are its characteristics? 

Scientific name  Thymus
Common nameTomillo
Place of originSouth and Central America 
HabitatMountain forests, pine forests, tropical and oak forests.
Distribution North, South and Central America, Asia, and Europe

Characteristics of the elderberry plant 

It belongs to the Sambucus genus. Its shrubs grow erect and form a crown scarcely branched, becoming wider and slightly protruding with age. The black elder grows up to 6 meters tall, the red remains significantly smaller at four meters. Its leaves have a serrated edge and are colorless in autumn. Like the bark, the fruits give off an unpleasant pungent odor when crushed. The small creamy white flowers are umbrella-shaped at the ends of the short lateral shoots.

Elderberry fruit description 

Over the summer small, black-seeded, very juicy fruits, called elderberries, develop. These contain

, a mild toxin that can cause indigestion when eating large quantities of the fruit raw. They break down when heated without leaving any residue. As the name implies, the fruits of the red elderberry bush are red in color. They are more toxic when raw than black elderberry but can be easily processed into jam by cooking them.

Types of elderberry 

There are 15 types or varieties of elderberry, which are:

  1. Southern elderberry
  2. Canadian elderberry
  3. Cerulean elderberry
  4. Black elderberry
  5. Red elderberry
  6. Java elderberry
  7. Lanceolate elderberry
  8. Sabugo
  9. Simpson elderberry
  10. Velvet Sauce
  11. Mexican elderberry
  12. Sambucus melanocarpa
  13. Sauco calicarpa
  14. Chinese elderberry
  15. Australasian elderberry

Today we focus on the first 5 types as they are the main ones.

Australasian elderberry 

Its scientific name is Sambucus australis. This variety comes from South America and originates in the temperate zone of the eastern part of the continent, especially in Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and some areas of Peru. It is often confused with the variant Sambucus nigra or black elder.

This is a shrub that can grow from 2 to 3 meters high. It can have up to 5 straight stems that grow in several groups and usually have no branches. The plant’s roots are found underground. Its leaves are opposite each other and have several divisions, about 5 to 9, which give off an unpleasant odor. The leaves can measure from 15 to 30 cm long.  Its stems can measure from 10 to 15 centimeters in diameter and have several white flowers that can be pink sometimes. Its fruit is a small, round, poisonous blackberry that can be 5 to 6 millimeters in diameter.

It is cultivated to be used in decorations due to its showy flowers. It is propagated by seeds and has a fast flowering.

By Sebastian Wallroth – Own work, Public domain,

Canadian elderberry

The Canadian elderberry or white elderberry is a very hardy small shrub that can withstand temperatures as low as -30 °C (-22 °F). This plant loses its leaves every year. It is native to North and Central America (Canada, United States, and Mexico). Its scientific name is Sambucus canadensis.

This shrub is 2 to 3 m high and wide and produces numerous shoots. It bears small white conjoined flowers. The fruit, a dark purple to black berry 3 to 5 mm wide distributed in hanging clusters, is popular among birds.

This American species is closely related to the European species Sambucus nigra and is sometimes referred to as Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis.

Sambucus canadensis
CC BY 2.5,

Cerulean elder 

Its scientific name is Sambucus cerulea. It is a type of thick shrub that can reach the size of a tree. Often, it has many stems coming from the base and can reach up to 2 to 4 m high. Its leaves are hairless but have sharp teeth. They are oval and generally measure 5 to 15 cm in length and 2 to 6 cm in width. It has creamy or white flowers that grow from May to June; they are abundant and grow in clusters that reach 4 to 15 centimeters wide. These flowers have an intense and malodorous fragrance. Its fruit resembles a berry: juicy and thick with a round silhouette. They measure about 4 to 6 centimeters and have a midnight blue color.

You can find this variety in western Montana. It also grows south from British Columbia to Arizona, New Mexico and California. Cerulean elderberry inhabits low to moderate altitudes in the mountains along rivers, valley bottoms and where the environment has some moisture.

Sambucus caerulea
By Walter Siegmund CC BY 2.5,

Black elderberry 

Its scientific name is Sambucus nigra. Also commonly known as common elderberry, canillero or just as elder. It is erroneously known as “sahuco”.

This variety originates from several places. First, the European continent, then Northwest Africa, and finally Southwest Asia. It flowers under many environmental conditions, either in wet or dry soils, but it does so mainly in sunny places. It is very frequent in some places, including the British Isles. Here it flourishes on roadsides and woodlands and is utilized as a hedge. Generally, elderberry is found in the Mediterranean region near humid areas such as lakes and rivers.

This tree loses its leaves every year and measures from 4 to 6 m in height, occasionally reaching a height of 10 m. Its trunk has a cork-like bark texture and well-developed whitish branches.

Its leaves grow from small branches one in front of the other; they can measure from 10 to 30 cm in length. These leaves tend to have several divisions (from 5 to 7 and very occasionally 9). Each of these divisions is on average 5 to 12 centimeters long and 3 to 5 centimeters wide. Its flowers grow at the end of the branches in clusters and these have from 10 to 25 cm in diameter. These flowers are white and measure from 5 to 6 millimeters in diameter. They have 5 petals with teeth on the edges. It develops in mid-summer. The fruit consists of a berry with a purple to black hue that is 3 to 5 millimeters in diameter. These fruits form clusters that fall easily at the end of autumn; they are key to the diet of many birds, especially the “blackcap”. This berry is laxative and it is not recommended to be consumed, however, jellies and wines can be made with it. This elderberry should not be confused with its relative “el sauquillo” of scientific name Sambucus ebulus, which is toxic both in its plant and in its fruits.

The black elder is very resistant to intense frosts from -15°C to -20°C. It is not very demanding on soil, it can grow in humid and fresh soils or in arid soils.

Sambucus nigra
CC BY-SA 3.0,

Red elderberry 

Its scientific name is Sambucus racemosa. This variety is native to the European continent, temperate Asia, and central and northern North America. It flowers near rivers, forests, and other places that are generally found in humid areas.

This shrub often has the silhouette of a tree and can grow from 2 to 6 meters high. Its stems are fragile and have a center that contains a lot of soft plant tissue. Its leaves grow individually and are made up of 5 or 7 divisions similar to small leaves. Each of its leaves is 16 cm long, oval and have small teeth on its edges. The leaf divisions have an intense and fetid fragrance when crushed.

Its flowers grow in a cluster with a gently conical silhouette with several spikes of flower buds growing from the tips of the branches. Its flower buds are pinkish when not yet open; once open they are white, yellowish, or creamy in color. Each of its flowers has small petals and a 5-axis white star shape, these have a strong aroma and are visited by butterflies and hummingbirds. Its fruit is bright red, sometimes purple, and has 3 to 5 seeds. Its fruits are well known among birds as they are in charge of distributing its seeds.

Unicode. By Frank Vincentz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Properties and benefits of elderberry

Elderberry nutritional profile 

Nutritional information
Serving size145 grams
Serving quantity106
% Daily value *
Total fat  0.7g1 %
sodium  8,7 mg0 %
Total Carbohydrates  27g10 %
Dietary fiber 10g36 %
Protein  1g2 %
Calcium 55mg4 %
Iron 2,3 mg13 %
Potassium 406mg9 %

We invite you to see the nutritional table of elderberry per 145g, taken from NutritionValue.

5 properties of elderberry that you must take advantage of 

It cures the flu and colds 

According to a study conducted by the Technical University of Queensland and published in the journal Nutrients, by drinking an infusion with the flowers of this plant and the extract of its fruits at an amount of 300 milligrams 3 times a day, the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms are reduced.

Within other investigations, other doses and other presentations of elderberry have been applied. For example, in one study, participants were given a dose of 175 milligrams and symptoms were reduced in one day.

It keeps the heart strong 

Multiple research studies show that elderberry works favorably to counteract dangers the heart may face such as hypertension, high blood uric acid, and high blood sugar.

According to studies in Phytotherapy Research and the British Journal of Nutrition, its high amount of anthocyanins (pigments that give the fruits their purple color) explains these positive effects on the cardiac system.

It counteracts sadness 

A study conducted at Mandazaran University in Iran indicates that the fruit extract of this plant has antidepressant properties.

In this study, an amount of 1,200 milligrams of fruit extract per kilogram of human body weight was used. It could be useful if the symptoms are not very strong.

It stimulates the immune system 

Its high amount of antioxidant components helps the immune system to fight the negative actions of free radicals that are created by the energetic metabolism or that may come from outside the body.

In this property, phenolic compounds and anthocyanins stand out because they delay tissue aging and prevent a large number of diseases such as cancer.

It prevents stomach and small intestine ulcers 

A study conducted by doctors Bode and Porter at Saint Martin’s and Washington Universities has shown that this plant extract reduces the spread of Helicobacter pylori bacteria, responsible for causing ulcers in the digestive system, and therefore increases the possibility of colon cancer. This study was published in Phytotherapy Research.

History and origin of elderberry

The ancient Greeks relied on the elderberry as part of their pharmacy at the beginning of the Common Era (before A.D.). Charlemagne decreed elderberry be planted throughout his kingdom in 700 A.D. as a readily available “medicine chest”. Folk traditions linked elderberry to the cross of Jesus and Judas. Elderberry could not be used as firewood because the sacred reverence that developed around the plant forbade harming the tree.

In pagan Europe, the elder was seen as magical. A nymph named Hylde-Moer (Mother elder) inhabited the tree as a caretaker. If the elder was disturbed or its wood is taken for furniture, the time’s belief was that the nymph would follow the wood into the house and torment the owners. This myth gave rise to the practice of asking Hylde-Moer’s permission before taking the tree for its fruit, flower or wood.

The request to the Elder Mother would go like this according to the 18th-century writer Trogillus Arnkiel: “Lady Elkhorn, give me some of your wood, and I’ll give you some of mine when it grows in the forest.” The request had to be made with humility: one had to be on one’s knees, have no hats on one’s head, and arms crossed. If Hylde-Moer remained silent, the request was considered accepted. Medieval peasants and Native Americans were known to leave gift offerings for the plant when they gathered some of it for their own use. Elderberry even appeared in plays and poems by William Shakespeare and William Langland.

Global elderberry industry 

Learn about the main exporters and importers of elderberry in the world.   

Top elderberry exporters in the world in 2020 

In the following chart, you can observe the top 10 countries that exported elderberry in 2020 according to FAO. On the other hand, it also provides information on the monetary volume in exports of these countries, specifically in U.S. dollars in 2020. Let’s see what they are:

Top world elderberry importers in 2020 

The top importers of elderberry according to FAO for the year 2020 are as shown in the following chart. Moreover, it provides information on the monetary volume in imports from these countries, specifically in U.S. dollars, in the year 2020. Let’s see what they are:

How is elderberry cultivated? 

A series of requirements must be met in order to cultivate this plant. Below, we show you what they are:   


Elderberries tolerate different soil conditions, including soils in a poor state, too wet or with too much calcium, but they prefer moderately fertile, humus-rich, moist, but well-drained soils. The soil for this plant should ideally have a pH between 5.5 and 7.5. It can tolerate a maximum pH of 8.


Elderberries are very easy to grow. They grow perfectly well in full sun or shade. Sambucus racemosa Tenuifolia is susceptible to leaf scorch in very hot, sunny sites.

One thing elderberries do not tolerate is drought.

Elderberry planting method 

The plants should be planted bare-rooted between November and March, and if they are to be grown in pots, preferably in the fall or spring.

  1. Dig a hole 60x60cm and 30cm deep. Add a layer of organic matter, such as compost or well-decomposed manure, to the base of the hole and dig it. The tree roots are placed in the planting hole and the planting depth is adjusted so that the old soil marking the trunk is level with the soil surface.
  2. More organic matter is now mixed into the soil and the planting hole is backfilled. Tall plants/trees may need a rigid tree stake.


Water thoroughly and add a 5-cm-deep mulch of well-decomposed garden compost or bark chips around the root area.

Recommended planting sites and types of gardens 

Roadside borders, patios, containers, city and courtyard gardens, cottage and informal gardens, wildlife gardens and hedgerows.

How to care for an elderberry 

Once grown, elderberries may need watering during extended dry seasons, especially when the fruit is developing to help ensure a bountiful harvest.

Plants grown in containers need regular watering in spring and summer to keep the compost from drying out.

Routine pruning is not necessary. Dead, diseased, damaged, crossing stems and those growing in unwanted directions should be removed – they can be pruned in winter or early spring. Common elderberry can also resprout every 3 to 4 years.

Harvesting elderberry 

Elderberry fruit is harvested from August to September, depending on the variety. The fruit has to be allowed to ripen to a dark purple color, but should not be left too long so that the birds don’t get it first! The whole bunch is pruned and the berries are peeled into a bowl.

Post-harvesting elderberry 

The fruit cannot be stored for too long, so keep it refrigerated and use it as soon as possible. Elderberries must be cooked, dried or otherwise processed before they can be safely consumed. Like many other parts of the plant, berries are mildly toxic when eaten raw.

Elderberries should be stored as cool and dark as possible. At room temperature, they barely last 3-4 days. If kept in the refrigerator, their shelf life can be extended up to 2 weeks.

If you want to use elderberries for their active ingredients and not just for their flavor, avoid storing them for too long, otherwise, their ingredients will degrade.

Elderflowers only last 1 or 2 days and then wither.

To keep elderflowers longer, they can be placed on baking paper and left to dry in a warm, ventilated, and shaded place.

Uses and products made from elderberries

The results of growing elderberry are its fragrant edible flowers and delicious dark purple/black berries. The berries are rather bitter and should not be eaten raw, but can be used in juices, jellies and jams, as well as in wine. Certain products made from elderberry have been released on the market, such as the ones we’ll show you next.

Handmade products made from elderberry 

Elderberry tea 

Elderberry tea is made from ripe and dried elderberries. These berries are boiled in water and the mixture is then strained to remove the residues. The resulting tea has a sweet and tart flavor with hints of earthiness. For a change in flavor, you can boil the berries with additional ingredients including:

  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Ginger
  • Orange juice
  • Honey (added after boiling)

It’s not hard to find online testimonials from people who rely on elderberry tea. It has been said to do everything from boosting immunity to relieving constipation.

Elderflower Extract 

The flower extract is used to make medicine. Elderflower is used for the common cold, flu, nasal cavity and sinus swelling (inflammation) (rhinosinusitis), and many other conditions.

In food and beverages, elderflower is used as a flavoring agent.

In industry, elderflower extracts are utilized in perfumes.


Several different dishes can be prepared from elderberries. They are usually boiled in jelly, mash, juice or even wine. You can also find elderberries in red fruit jelly. Often a soup is prepared from it in northern Germany. When baked, elderberries can be used in cakes or muffins. Blackberries can also be processed into tea, liqueur or brandy.

Industrial products made from elderberries 

Elderberry gummies 

Are you looking for a delicious and healthy way to boost your immune system? Elm & Rye Elderberry Gummies give you the chance to enjoy helping to boost your immune system by giving you many all-natural vitamins and antioxidants that are needed to keep your immune system and heart healthy.

Many even believe that the all-natural ingredients contained in these gummies help fight some cold and flu symptoms.

Elderberry Syrup 

The ingredients of this syrup are elderberries, cranberries, honey, cinnamon cloves and orange essential oil. it’s suggested that adults may take a spoonful or two a day as an immune booster and a spoonful or two every two to three hours if they’re sick.

Below, find a list of other products that are also made from elderberry:

  • Elderberry juice
  • Elderberry wine
  • Elderberry vinegar
  • Elderberry vodka
  • Elderberry meringue
  • Elderberry perfume
  • Elderberry soup
  • Cakes
  • Muffins
  • Jelly
  • Medicines
  • Supplements


Elderberry is a valuable plant that is widely consumed for its many benefits, which include protecting people’s immune systems, and for the variety of products that can be made from it. We hope this blog helped you understand more about elderberry and that you don’t hesitate to consume it in all its presentations to enjoy its benefits firsthand.