The elderberry has a history of use in herbal lore, and growing elderberries gives you a chance to harvest this “magical” herb for yourself. It was once believed that the berries could calm babies and allow you to divine the future and see fairies. It probably doesn’t do most of that, but it has its own worth outside the realm of magic.
Most elderberries grow on their own in the wild, around horse pastures, between fields and along riverbanks,. But you can grow them yourself, too, in order to take advantage of their qualities. Elderberries are popular, too. The berries are full of nutrition, the flowers are fragrant and the wildlife of your area may beat you to the berries if you’re not vigilant.
Some growers feel that the elderberry takes a lot of maintenance, and it does need care in planting, so that it will not overgrow your available garden space. The berries that will form after the shrubs have flowered are quite nutritious and have been used in making jelly, jam, pies, juice, extract and wine, among other treats.
Select the location for your growing elderberries carefully. They need moist soil and full sun, but they can tolerate a little shade. The type of soil isn’t really a problem, unless it’s not moist. Elderberry shrubs can quickly grow out of control if you don’t prune them back. You won’t want to plant elderberries in a garden area that is otherwise neat and formal in appearance. You can cut them back each spring to keep them in check. Elderberry shrubs make good screens for privacy, too. The wildlife will visit your garden more if you plant elderberries, and the animals will include birds, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits and deer.
The ripe berries of an elderberry shrub are edible, but don’t eat them before they ripen, and don’t eat any other parts of the plant, outside of the flowers. Cooking will destroy the toxins that the berries contain, and give them a better aroma. If you are harvesting some wild elderberries as well as those you have planted, be sure of the type of berry you see before you pick any. There are a few shrubs that look like elderberry plants, but those with red berries, known as Scarlet Elder, are poisonous.
You can purchase elderberry shrubs for planting at nurseries, or select wild shrubs to replant using root cuttings. Plant them in the spring, and give them about eight to 10 feet between bushes. Water young plants well. When you are growing elderberries, set the cuttings carefully in the soil, with just the top buds visible. Be sure to keep them quite moist until they take root.