Home » General » Stay Active and Healthy Year Round with Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

Elderberry flowers are tiny, creamy-white and borne on a cluster in June. Pollinators come to do their thing and then many small berries grow and gain water weight as they ripen over July and August. You’ll know berries are ripe when the entire cluster begins to sag downwards. Use a pair of garden snips to collect fruit clusters into a basket. Several visits to your plant will be required in order to harvest all of the fruit over the course of a month. Freezer space helps you stock up for large batch processing at the end of ripening season. Most, but not all, of the fruits on each cluster will be dark purple in color. Remove a fruit cluster from the freezer or take a fresh cluster holding it over a basket; separate the tiny berries by rolling your fingers over them. You may decide not to use every single little berry, leaving unripe fruits. Most fruits on a cluster should be ripe, so feel free to use all of them. Either way, it will make good medicine. Add water, ginger, cinnamon, and citrus to the berries in a pot and cook the fruit down adding honey as it cools to make syrup. Lots of recipes online. Once all your hard-earned medicine is made, you can store in the refrigerator and enjoy it during the winter flu season taking a tablespoon per day for preventative health. Children love the flavor on pancakes! A classic “food as medicine” concept!


Elderberry syrup has long been a traditional preventative medicine. Reputable sources say that prehistoric cave dwellers and the ancient Egyptians used this medicine! Modern research shows that the fruit contains immune-boosting antioxidants known as flavonoids. Elderberry has higher concentrations of these flavonoids than blueberries, cranberries, and blackberries. This plant is easy to grow in Maryland. So why not have one in your yard? The Elderberry shrub in the landscape creates wildlife habitat, including forage and cover for birds as well as flowers that attract beneficial garden insects. It provides aesthetic interest during the growing season with showy white blooms and dark purple fruits. Plant maintenance, including mulching, pruning, harvesting, and fruit processing can offer a variety of tasks to keep you active and healthy.


Pruning is an important winter time task that will be covered in further detail at the “Year Round Orchard Care” workshop from 11-11:30am the Fruit Tree Fair. But basically you want to trim away any dead, broken, or diseased stems from the shrub by cutting at the ground level. Then you will want to remove the larger diameter stems that are over three years old. Since fruit only grows on 1-3 year old wood, we visit the shrub each winter season to invigorate the plant and increase the fruit yield. Your plant will also be more showy with more blooms come spring!


By: Ted Martello