WARNING – do not .eat berries from trees, bushes, or plants unless you absolutely have a positive ID on the plant. People die from eating poisonous fruits and berries! For example, to the amateur botanist, poison hemlock is plant that grows in similar habitats as elderberry and has flowers that look similar to elderberry, but is highly poisonous. Additionally, be sure that the plants have not been sprayed by pesticides.
Often growing as dense thickets in rich, moist soils, elderberry is common in eastern North America from Nova Scotia to Florida. It is easily recognized by its clusters of white flowers and drupes of blue-black berries.
Although tasty treats for birds, berries are distasteful to us and contain poisonous alkaloids that can cause stomach upset. However, cooking destroys the alkaloids so the berries can be made into jellies, pies and elderberry wine. Elderberries are a good source of vitamin C.
Elderberry has a rich history in folk medicine when it was used to treat: fever, headaches, indigestion, rheumatism, bladder and kidney infections, colds, inflammation and a variety of other ailments.
In addition to medicine and food, native Americans elderberry’s pithy stalks to make arrows, blow guns and whistles and to dye baskets with the inky berries.
Elderberry is abundant and secure in its range, but there may be other plants that hold medical treatments still undiscovered. This is one of the reasons it is important to preserve our natural areas so that plants, that may hold the key to future cures, will be protected from development and extinction.