Featured Herb | Elderberry

The American Black Elderberry is a hardy perennial native to nearly all US states, excluding Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawai’i. With the word “Elder” in its name, the Elder shrub—or tree, as some can grow over 13ft tall—has been a practical and revered component of an herbalist’s garden for generations. 

Spiritually, the Elder has protective, feminine energies and is considered the grandmother of the garden. Medicinally, parts of the plant have been used for all sorts of ailments, but the most common modern use of the Elder is its berries. Elderberry syrup has risen in popularity as a natural immune booster and antiviral, and can even be made in the home kitchen. A sweet fruit, it has also been used in pie and winemaking, though it should not be consumed raw as it can upset the stomach when uncooked. 

Elderberry shrubs love moist, fertile soil and can tolerate nearly full shade. They are easily found along roadsides and retention ponds, but it is best not to harvest or propagate from these plants due to the danger of toxic runoff from the road or other unknown sources. 

Once you have your first Elder, they spread so prolifically that you’ll be giving it away in no time. Elder does grow from seed, but propagating it from cuttings or digging up the new shoots the roots of the mother plant send out through the growing season is arguably much easier.

As we live in Florida, one of Elder’s many natural habitats, pests are virtually no issue, and its large clusters of white flowers appear in early spring and attract all sorts of native pollinators. By mid to late summer, berries grow on the end of each cane and serve as food for birds and small furry animals. A cane produces berries for about three years, then it begins to taper its production off. These older canes as well as any damaged ones can be pruned in early spring. Aside from controlling its spread, it needs little maintenance.

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