Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Elderberry: A Useful California Native Tree

Elderberry is a California Native

Elderberry is often seen growing wherever it has found ideal conditions to sprout. That's how I got this tree. I didn't plant it. I just noticed it one day and decided to find out what it was.

E is for Elderberry
Elderberry and Milk Thistle, © B. Radisavljevic

Once it takes up residence on your property, it grows quickly. You could even use the old expression "grows like a weed" because it applies to the elderberry. It may also be growing right next to your other weeds, as the photo above shows.

Elderberry Grows all over San Luis Obispo County

E is for Elderberry
Elderberry in Bloom and Forming Fruit, © B. Radisavljevic

Many do consider it a weed. I never planted mine. I just allowed it to grow in peace. It would not surprise me to learn that birds plant most of our elderberry trees. They love elderberries, and I'll leave the rest to your imagination. Although the gardening books indicate the elderberry tree thrives in moist soil in full sun, mine has only the full sun. I have never watered it and we don't get much rain.

 My property came with a number of fruit trees already growing in a small home orchard. I think I had been there a few years when I was walking through the orchard and discovered a shrub I had never noticed before. It was covered with light yellow star-shaped flowers. By the time I had been able to identify it, it had turned into a tree. Once I knew what it was, I started noticing elderberry trees along the sides of roads, in vacant places, at Larry Moore Park, and even beside a parking structure in San Luis Obispo. (See photo below.) I was surprised to learn the elderberry is a relative of the honeysuckle.

E is for Elderberry
Elderberry Tree Beside Parking Structure in San Luis Obispo, © B. Radisavljevic

Blue Elderberries Are Edible and Are Sometimes Used Medicinally

Once I discovered I had elderberries, I remembered hearing on the Organic Gardening email list I once subscribed to that members had used used the berries to make elderberry wine and the flowers to make elderberry tea. I've seen recipes for elderberry pie, elderberry jam, and more. Members also shared their medicinal uses for elderberry. At that time, I still didn't know I had an elderberry tree. Once I  found out, I still decided to leave the berries for the birds unless the time came when I really needed to eat the berries, since most recipes use a lot of sugar to sweeten them and I'm supposed to refrain from sugar. Here is a closer look at the berries in various stages of ripeness.

E is for Elderberry
Elderberry Tree with Fruit in Various stages of Ripeness, © B. Radisavljevic

If you aren't growing any elderberries, but would like to use them for food, you can often find them in public places, ready to harvest. Just be sure you have properly identified them.  You can find help with this in my favorite go-to book for herbs and their uses, Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of herbs. My 1997 edition devotes four pages of over 500 to just the identification, history, and uses of elderberry. It is equally useful in providing the information you might need on other herbs. No one who loves herbs should be without it.  it appears the book is out of print, but used copies are available at reasonable prices.

The two best books I own that include elderberry recipes are Edible and Useful Plants of California by Charlotte Clarke and Feasting Free on Wild Edibles by Bradford Angier. Unfortunately, neither has color illustrations like the books below do, but they do tell you what to do with your wild edible plants once you have identified and harvested them. Most books say you can get sick if you eat too many of them raw, so cook most of what you pick.There are some other wonderful books for foraging, identifying, and using California wild edible plants listed on Amazon that tempt me to buy more than I can afford. For elderberries, I'd probably start with the books below.

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E is for Elderberry

1 comment:

S. Lincecum said...

I've heard the Elderberry has medicinal properties, but I've yet to come across one in the wild. Maybe one day!

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