A member of the honeysuckle family, elderberries form dense clusters of green berries that turn dark blue to black when ripe. Elderberry plants make great additions to most gardens since they flower in late June, after the danger of frost has passed.
Plus, a wide variety of uses make elderberries very beneficial. Easy to grow, the plants thrive in moist, well-drained soil with white blossoms appearing first, followed by clusters of berries ready for harvesting in late summer.
Food and Beverages
While the leaves and stems of the elderberry are poisonous, many gardeners turn the flowers and ripe berries into a variety of tasty items. Since elderberries require cooking to become edible, cooks make juices and wines as well as pies, jams, and syrups from the little fruits. They can also be used in muffins and pancakes. Tea may also be made from dried elderberry flowers. Besides making delicious foods, elderberries are very rich in antioxidants, Vitamin C and Vitamin A.
Elderberries have been used by ancient peoples for thousands of years including Egyptians who used the little fruits to improve their complexions and heal burns. Native Americans also used elderberries to reduce joint pain and high fevers.
Nowadays, with the high amounts of Vitamin C and antioxidants evident in elderberries, some people suggest the use of elderberry extract as a way to help alleviate allergies, colds and asthma. Some of the plant's compounds, including anthocyanins, may also produce an anti-inflammatory effect that reduces pains and aches.
Wildlife Food Sources
If you want to attract wildlife and birds to your yard, elderberries offer the perfect way to do so. Birds such as woodpeckers, bluebirds, cardinals and waxwings eat the berries right off the bushes, sometimes eating the little fruits when they're still green.
If you want your elderberry bushes to spread out, the birds do a great job of dispersing the seeds. Bears also love the ripe fruit while rabbits and woodchucks eat the bark. Deer like elderberry leaves and twigs, although they're toxic to humans. Small mammals and birds as well as frogs and snakes also use elderberry shrubs as cover.