Life in Christian County, Kentucky... More About Trees And Plants
Along Christian County's ditches and ponds and little streams, elders are blooming. Perhaps you call them elderberries. Either way, the name refers to the same shrubs.
When we first moved here, I thought that the white-blooming clump of elder near our mailbox might be some kind of wild hydrangea. (I had read an article about wild hydrangeas in Southern Living magazine.)
However, in a few months, the white blooms morphed into drooping heads of small blackish-purple berries dangling from red stems. I realized that they were definitely elderberries.
I still don't know if any wild hydrangeas grow here, but we have lots of elder bushes. Our elder is Sambuccus canadensis, American (common) elder, which is native to much of the U.S.
I like the schedule elderberry bushes keep. They bloom in June and July after the early rush of blooming shrubs has finished. A couple of months later, the birds enjoy the fruit. In fact, when the elderberries are ripe, the birds practically swarm the berry heads.
If I had a wild, wet area, I'd think about planting elders there. Elders are short-lived shrubs, but the root system will send up new shoots as the old ones die out. In a manicured yard, the dead branches would need pruning every year, and that might be a pain. It would be better to plant them where nature can just take its course.
The flowers, leaves and berries of the elderberry were used by American Indians, and are still favored for various folk remedies. At health food stores, you'll find elderberry supplements that are said to fend off influenza.
If you ever decide to pick elderberries, be sure you have the plant identified correctly. Elders do not have thorns. Also, the berries of the common elder are always blackish when ripe and the berries hang down from the heads. There is another type of elderberry that produces red berries, and they are poisonous.
People usually hold a pan under the head and strip the little berries off, rather than plucking them individually.
My Mennonite neighbor, Kathryn, has picked elderberries to make jam some years. Elderberry wine is supposed to be good for what ails you, and I've heard of elderberry tea and elderberry pie. I have never made any of those things.
I just enjoy looking at elderberries blooming and bearing fruit. It's not nearly as much work.