All About The Elderberry

nick musica
Published Jan 04, 2021. Read time: 4 mins

It’s always a good idea to respect your elders – but that’s especially true in the world of fruit.

Elderberries are one of the most delicious types of fruits out there, but these bodacious berries have plenty to offer aside from their seniority.

Elder Statesmen

True to their name, elderberries are actually one of the oldest types of plants in their native North America and Europe, where the bushes have been growing wild for thousands of years. And all that age has certainly yielded some great wisdom – especially when it comes to the berries’ use in natural medicine.

Elderberries have been foraged if not cultivated for nearly as long as humans have known about them, thanks not just to their distinctive tart taste but the number of folk medicine uses that have been tied to the plants over the years.

The berries have been on the medicine man’s radar as far back as ancient Egypt, where elderberries were used to improve complexions and heal burns. On the other side of the world, Native Americans traditionally used the fruit to treat infection and relieve pain and swelling. And in Europe, all parts of the plant were prescribed for a number of natural remedies, from the berries offering aid with common cold and flu symptoms to the bush’s bark and leaves used – in very small doses – as a laxative, or to induce sweating or vomiting. (Elderberry trees and bark are actually mildly poisonous and should not be consumed.)

And the fruit continues to be celebrated by modern scientists, who have confirmed or linked it to even more amazing health benefits.

Aside from being high in vitamin C and dietary fiber, the fruits are actually excellent sources of a huge number of antioxidants, responsible for some of the very same medical miracles they’ve been associated with for centuries.

Even better? There are so many different types of elderberries to love!

Different Types of Elderberries

Elderberries may still be heavily foraged today, but the plant has also inspired gardeners everywhere to dream up better and bolder varieties, resulting in a huge number of elderberry cultivars.

Some of the most popular types of elderberries include:

Beauty Elderberries

As the name may suggest, this type of elderberry is especially revered for its lovely deep purple color and distinctively beautiful flowers, which blossom in a brilliant shade of pink and smell like lemon.

The bush was a favorite ornamental crop in its native Europe – though even there, the fruits were still used to make all their typical culinary treats, like elderberry jam.

Lemon Lace Elderberries

Another aesthetically pleasing plant, lemon lace elderberries indeed grow on bushes that sport the same delicate color and texture as their namesake.

But despite its delicate appearance, lemon lace is actually one of the hardiest types of elderberries, with delicious and distinctively tart red berries and white flowers that are especially resistant to wind, cold and deer.

Black Lace Elderberries

The same dainty leaves grace this type of elderberry bush, though they’re colored a distinctive (and distinctively beautiful) dark purple-blue hue, that almost skews black.

Black lace elderberries are also particularly thirsty plants, making them more common sights in rainy areas like the Pacific Northwest.

European Red Elderberries

Another type of elderberry that stays true to its name, this bush produces fruits that come in a ravishing red hue.

The bushes – which, themselves, are a light green with frilly leaves – also come from Europe, as advertised, and make for great butterfly feeders, though they’re maybe not quite as pleasing for people, as the berries are known to be especially astringent and full of seeds.

Blue Elderberries 

A West Coast native of the United States, this type of elderberry more often gets confused with an East Coast staple: Blueberries.

Still, the hardy, powder-blue fruits taste very little like their lookalikes, instead sporting the patented elderberry bitter-sour pallet. 

Johns Elderberries

This is one of the oldest types of elderberry plants out there, known especially for the brilliant size and bright green color of its bush.

As for the berries, Johns elderberries are especially prized for making elderberry jam, thanks to their sweeter-than-average taste and less-than-average amount of seeds.

Variegated Elderberries

Yet another ornamental type of elderberry bush, variegated elderberries are especially noted for their particular fronds, which grow in stunning green and white combinations.

Still, these bushes aren’t quite as revered when it comes to their berries – which tend to fill in slowly and sparsely.

York Elderberries

Saving the best for last? This North American native is one of the most popular types of elderberries grown today.

That’s probably due to their high berry yields, large and lush berries which blossom in a beautiful deep blue color and produce some of the best juice of the bunch. York elderberries are also some of the most weather-resistant types of elderberries, meaning their greatness can be enjoyed nearly anywhere.

The old adage may advise to put age after beauty, but with elderberries, you can actually have both at once!


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