Elderberry- Zone 3
Characteristics of the tree
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Elderberry is a native, fast-growing shrub, which can grow in a range of environments. It is particularly happy in damp soil, but can also grow in dry soil and clay soil, and is resistant to atmospheric pollution. It can tolerate partly shaded conditions, although it will be at its best in full sun.
The roots of the elderberry bush spread horizontally, and this quality, together with its ability to thrive in damp soil, makes it the ideal fruit tree for riverbank naturalisation. This is because the wide-spreading roots help to stabilize the banks of rivers or lakes and prevent erosion.
Elderberry flowers in July, making magnificent white flower-clusters with a citrusy scent. When planted alone, it will produce fruit, but will produce much more if a second elderberry plant is planted alongside for cross-pollination. It begins to produce fruit from its second year onwards.
For large plantations of elderberry, one can plant either 1500 shrubs per hectare, or 600 shrubs per acre. Elderberry can also be used to make a wide-spreading hedge. If you wish to do so, space the plants around 1m (3-4 feet) apart.
Elderberry is rich in antioxidants due to its high content of polyphenols. It also contains one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C in any fruit.
The berries can be used to make jellies, jams, syrup, juice, and fruit bars. In taste they are quite acidic and somewhat astringent, and it is preferable to eat them cooked, rather than raw. You can expect to harvest up to 10kg of berries per shrub.
Commercially there is a huge demand for elderberry as a natural colorant. More than 500 metric tonnes are needed every year.
The flowers can be cooked in a batter. They can be used to make syrup and vinegar, or to perfume jams. When dried they can be used in herbal tea.
The leaves and the inner bark can be used as an insect repellent. A black dye can be prepared from the bark. Whistles and flutes can be made with the stem.
Elderberry is well known in Denmark, Poland and Switzerland. In Canada the American elderberry is emerging as a popular fruit.
The Indigenous populations of North America use elderberries as a medicinal plant. Various parts of the plant are used for different treatments such as a laxative, diuretic, expectorant, purgative and a stimulant amongst others. Take note that the bark, branches and leaves are poisonous and should not be consumed!
There is a lot of confusion surrounding the Latin name of our native edible elderberry.
The edible elderberry originating in Europe has the Latin name Sambucus nigra. It is very similar to the edible elderberry native to North America, which many people identify as Sambucus canadensis. However, due to their strong similarities, many botanists class the elderberry native to Canada as a subspecies of Sambucus nigra, and its official Latin name would therefore be Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis.
This fast-growing shrub starts to produce berries within 2 years of planting, and generally reaches about 3 metres or 10 feet in height at maturity. It may spread over around 2 metres (6 feet). The roots have a suckering habit and spread horizontally, which should be taken into account when choosing where to plant. An individual elderberry shrub may live for up to about 60 years, but will often produce new plants through suckers in the meantime.
You should note that this illustration is meant only to give a general indication of what you can expect, and the growth of your shrub might look somewhat different. The development of a tree depends on the soil type, irrigation, fertilisation and climatic conditions. What we show here is based on our observation of the growth of elderberries in zone 4, in rather poor soil. In zone 2, growth will probably be slower, while in a rich soil it could be faster.
All our elderberry shrubs are sold bare-root, without pots. They have been cultivated directly in our soil. Bare-root trees must be taken out of the ground and shipped during their period of dormancy, which is why we only ship trees in the spring. A big advantage with these kinds of trees is that they take up very little space, and can therefore be easily shipped by mail all over Canada!
This photograph shows a 1-3-foot elderberry, just like one that you might receive. Depending on our availability at the time of order preparation, it might be slightly taller, (closer to 3 feet) or somewhat smaller (closer to 1-foot in height).