The Elderberry is an attractive ornamental shrub that gives growers the added bonus of edible berries that are ideal for making jam, jellies, syrup, pies and wine.
Native to North America and Central Europe, the berries have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes and contain vitamins, A.B and C. Although it has been around for centuries, elderberries are not well known here, but are beginning to gain in popularity as people realize how versatile the plant is, and the tasty things that can be made with the berries, especially the wine. Elderberry is an ideal plant for edible landscapes and can be used as a hedge or as a specimen plant.
When it comes to producing berries, there are two varieties worth mentioning, which is important because you need two varieties for cross pollination to get heavier yields.
“Nova” (Sambucus Canadensis “Nova”) is an American variety that produces bunches of sweet, ender, deep purple berries that ripen in August. It grows 6-8 feet .
A good pollinator for Nova is another American variety “York”. York also produces large, juicy, sweet purple black berries that ripen slightly later than Nova. It also grows 6-8 feet. The berries themselves are quite small, but grow in large clusters similar to a bunch of grapes. Pick the berries when they are slightly soft and dark coloured, Strip off the entire cluster, and then remove the berries from the cluster. Store harvested berries in a cooler or fridge.
Elderberries are an easy to grow plant that is rarely bothered by pests or disease. They grow best in a sheltered, sunny location in a moist, well drained soil. They can tolerate differing soil types provided the soil is well drained. For plants to grow well and produce, they need constant moisture. A mulch placed on top of the soil around the plant will help keep soil moist and weeds down which will be helpful as elderberries are shallow rooted so weeds should be removed by hand so that the roots are not disturbed.
Space plants 7-8 feet apart. Elderberry plants sucker easily and sound out new canes every year. The second year canes with good laterals are the most productive. After three years, prune out the oldest branches as these are the least productive, and leave the younger more productive branches. Flowers and berries develop on the tips of the current season’s growth.
So far, we have been talking about the edible berries, but the flowers are also edible. The small, white, 5 petal flowers grow in large clusters and appear in the spring. The flowers can be dipped in batter and made into fritters, or used in teas, vinegars etc. If you eat the flowers, then you won’t be able to enjoy the clusters of small berries, so you might want to wait for the berries. The clusters of flowers can also be used in floral displays. The flowers also attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Jos Van Hage owns and operates two Art Knapp home and garden centres in Prince George :
- Highway 16 west at Kimball Road
- Highway 97 north at Northwood Pulpmill Road ( closed for the season)