What’s an elderberry?

Elderberries are small, dark berries that grow in clusters on elder trees (also called elderberry bushes). Elderberry bushes are a hardy plant growing native in many climates, often in the moist soil along roadsides and streams. They’re fast-growing and typically grow quite large and full, with compound leaves and tightly clustered bunches of tiny white flowers in late spring, followed by clusters of berries in late summer.

Sambucus canadensis, (the shrub’s scientific name) has traditionally been used to make jams, jellies, syrups, and wines for home and family use. Although native to much of North America, this plant has only recently been studied as a marketable crop for family farmers.  Sales of locally-made elderberry juices and jellies are strong and growing as word of the health benefits of the berry spread. Consumer demand for natural and organic food and health products created renewed interest in elderberry, but this interest has rapidly spread to retiring baby boomers and mainstream consumers seeking natural health benefits and improved diets.

The shrub has a long history as folk remedy with multiple health benefits for its users. Elderberries have been utilized for generations, with even the founder of modern medicine, Hippocrates, prescribing its benefits by referring to the elderberry as the “medicine chest.”

Elderberry as a crop?

Elderberry research was conducted in New York state in the 1920's.  New York released the Adams 1 and Adams 2 cultivars in 1926.  These cultivars are still being grown today.  University of Missouri has been conducting research on elderberry production in an effort to establish elderberry as a niche crop for family farmers in the state.  Results have been impressive with third year production averages near three tons per acre with some trials exceeding five tons per acre. 

A group of interested farmers have formed RiverHills Harvest to explore the commercial aspects of elderberry production and value-added marketing.  RiverHills Harvest plans to operate a centrally located juice and bottling facility and provide marketing and distribution of elderberry products for members and area growers. 

free hit counter