Elder Flowers - How To Identify Wild Elderberry Shrubs - with tips on harvesting and storing their flowerssteemCreated with Sketch.

in #nature4 years ago (edited)

If you can identify Elder bushes, you have got some good food ahead of you - from flowers and berries! When they flower, elder bushes stand out from far away. Find them now for the flowers - and mark them on your foraging map to pick berries, too, later in the summer!

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I recently posted on how to make some great Elder flower pancakes. Some people had questions about how to reliably identify elder bushes. So I hope this post helps! I also give tips on how to pick the best flowers. And I show how to get the flowers ready to use -- both fresh and dried. This post applies to the Common Elderberry of the eastern United States, the Blue Elder of the western US, and the Black Elderberry of Europe because that are so closely related that they were recently combined into the same species, Sambucus nigra.

How To Identify Elderberry Bushes

The Elder Bush

Black, Common, and Blue Elders are adaptable - they grow in a variety of open habitats. But they prefer moist areas with good drainage. And they get larger when the soil has plenty of nitrogren.

The Elder grows as a bush, usually with multiple stems. It can be a big bush! That guy rustling around, over on the right, is 6 foot, 3 inches tall! Both in the wild and in a cultivated landscape, an elderberry bush is dramatic!

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As they get older, the elderberry branches get woody and their bark has distinctive bumps. Elderberry branches are not solid wood. They have a spongy pith in the center.

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The flowerhead is attached to the end of a branch. Each leaf has 5-11 leaflets with jagged edges. Look how these leaves come out as a whorl on the branch.

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The Elder Flowers

The elderberry flowerhead is gorgeous. It's very flat. It does not have a conical shape - it's flat! Even though the biggest flowerheads may have multiple levels to them, each level is flat and it's not arranged in a cone shape -- that's a different plant!

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Here's how the flowerhead grows: the flowerstems branch out in a whorl, with each stem branching out again into another whorl, and so on.

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How To Harvest Elder Flowers

A close look at the flowerhead shows it is made of lots and lots of individual flowers.

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The flavor of the elderberry flowers does not come from the petals or nectar - it comes from the flowers' pollen! So it's important to harvest the flowerheads at the stage when the pollen is fresh, not before the flowerbuds open up and not after the pollen is gone.


So if the flowerbuds haven't opened up yet, come back for them later. If the flowers have started turning brown, leave them alone. The best thing to do in that case is just harvest the part of the flowerhead that's at the right stage.

Be aware, that cutting off the flowerheads means there won't be any berries. So don't harvest all of them, if you want to come back for berries later in the summer!

Even though Elder shrubs can be tall, there usually are flowerhead even down low. If the bush is tall, it's easier to harvest the flowerheads as a team. One person bends the stem down, while the other person snips off the whole flowerhead or the parts that are at the right stage of maturity. I think kitchen scissors are the easiest tool for cutting the flowerheads off.

Even though elderberry flowers are little, it really doesn't take long to collect enough flowerheads to use for a bunch of different things.

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How to Store Elder Flowers

I like to use a lot of elder flowers fresh. But the green parts of elderberry plants are not good to eat, so I rub the flowers off the flowerhead. I do get a little bit of the green stems in there, but not enough to worry about. And for some uses, like deep-fried elderflowers, it's easiest to leave the stems on, and just not eat them.

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For long-term storage, I like to dry elder flowers. It's easy here in Oregon's Willamette Valley, because the summer air is dry. I put the flowerheads in a paper sack, loosely, and set it aside where the air circulates. The flowers stay more uniformly white that way. But I can often let them sit on a on open tray -- or in a bowl like this one here. Some of the flowers may turn brownish, but the flavors are just fine! Drying the flowers on a tray also gives any insects and spiders a chance to escape!

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When the flowerheads are dry, it's easier to rub off the flowers than when they are fresh. Then I put the dried flowers in a jar so I can use them later in the year for elder flower tea, which is really good!

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To see how to put all this into action, here's my YouTube video: How to Identify and Harvest Elderberry Flowers

I'll post soon about making tea with from dried and fresh elderberry flowers. Hit this hotlink to see How To Make Elder Flower Pancakes.

There have been some other nice posts about Elder bushes here on Steemit.

If you have posted a picture of an elderberry flower or bush, here on Steemit, please put that link in the comments below. That way, everyone can get a different view of these great plants - and we can appreciate your post!

Plant List

  • Elderberry: Sambucus nigra
  • Common Elderberry: Sambucus nigra subspp. candadensis
  • Blue Elder: Sambucus nigra subspp. cerulea
  • Black Elderberry: Sambucus nigra

What Do You Think?

I hope you get a chance to find some Elder bushes and enjoy their flowers, whether they are the black elderberry, the common elderberry, or the blue elder. It is so worth the effort! These three kinds of elderberry bushes are just out there growing on their own, anyway. The flowers just have to be harvested!

  • Do you use Elder flowers for anything?
  • Do you think you could identify an Elderberry Bush from this description?
  • Do you have any Elder bushes near you?
  • If you find any elder bushes near you, don't hesitate to write a post about it! Show us all! I would like to read about it!

I write about foraging because I believe that we can all have lives that are richer, more secure, more grounded, and more interesting by getting to know the plants and the land around us – in our yards, our parks, and our wilderness.

I would like Steemit to be the premier site for Foraging on the Internet! If you have any thoughts about foraging, or experiences to share, write a post and be sure to use the Foraging tag. And check out the @foraging-trail to see curated quality posts about foraging. Happy Foraging!

** Haphazard Homestead **

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*** foraging, gardening, nature, simple living close to the land ***

All content is 100% Haphazard Homestead!
My YouTube channel: Haphazard Homestead


I'd be down to try some pancakes.

Those elder flower pancakes really are good! :D

Elder flowers and basil salt are my 2 neared love from steemit.

Elderberries rule. They get huge all along the west coast states and farther inland. I grew up with elderberries all over the property and now we have them all over our property in eastern Washington and the surrounding area.

Go for a drive and watch the sides of the road. At least here in the Inland Northwest, the Elderberry are everywhere along the roads and highways. I have harvested hundreds of pounds of Elderberries from the road easements. You HAVE to wash them to get road grime off them, but I get them for wine so not as big a problem for me. You can also find all the other berries and fruits, rose hips, and foraging foods foods from the road easements, just open your eyes and pay attention, the bounty is all around us. Parking can be a pain, so just be prepared for a possible hike along the road or highway to get to them.

And a pic of some of the Elderberry flowers in my garden.

That's great that you see so many elderberry bushes around you! They are one that's noticeable at 60 miles/hour. Your harvest reflects how productive they can be, too. Great foraging! And it's nice you have them in your garden, too. They fit so well in a home landscape! Thanks for sharing all that! :D

Why am I not surprised that you have a foraging map? That has never even occurred to me. Then again, I'm a total rookie forager and still on the lookout for these beautiful flowers because I seriously want to try those pancakes!

Foraging maps, over the years, really add up to an entire grocery store! @flemingfarms wrote a nice post on using Google to help out in making foraging maps, too.

Hahaha of course he does! He is a totally foraging geek!
I sure do love his work. Very valuable and well done!

Hello @haphazard-hstead , with this post, i am sure to identify it should i find it in the Mauritian bushes!
Amazing post as usual! Those pancakes still in my mind!

Even in places where Elderberry shrubs are not native, people have planted them. They may be in your neighborhoods or parks. I'm surprised at how adaptable they are, all over the world.

I'll be on the look out for same! Really hope i find it somewhere in our forest here!

Thank you for this foraging post. Upvoted, followed, and resteemed.

Thanks, @preppers, for the resteem. I hope you get to enjoy some Elder flowers yourself! :D

Oh, I've seen those while out hiking! Wild Parsnip looks like that but yellow, right? I need to learn more plant identification for sure!

Wild parsnip don't get woody stems with bumps like the elderberry bushes. It is important to get the identification right, that's for sure!

Well from the news reports I've been hearing, that's for sure! That's good to know the difference...thanks!

Ah, elder flower tea, yum! What an amazing post! On my parent's property in SW Washington there were gigantic elder bushes the size of small trees that I used to play under! Who knew I could have been eating pancakes! lol!

Thank you so, so much for the thorough tutorial HH! Like most of your posts, I bookmarked it in my homesteading file😊

That's neat that you had a big elder bush to appreciate while you were a kid! You would have liked those elderflower pancakes, even a youngster. They are good!

Thank you for this very instructive and educational article. I'm going to bookmark it.

I used to read books by Euell Gibbons years ago. Being knowledgeable enough to live off of the land is an amazingly important skill!



Euell Gibbons books are still among the best out there. They show that wild food can be real food -- not just for survival, but for enjoying every day! Happy foraging!

Thanks very much! :D

Beautiful info! I especially appreciate the part about the timing of the flower collection...even though I can't bring myself to harvest the flowers because I don't want to sacrifice any berries, haha! Maybe worth mentioning that the leaves are serrated and to watch out for some slightly similar plants like Dogwood and Hercules Club?

There are so many flowers on most of the Elderberry bushes -- I hope you can at least have a cup of tea, lol. I did say that the leaflets have jagged edges. It's always interesting to hear what people think another plant looks like and could get confused with. Dogwoods don't have compound leaves, so there's no leaflets - and they don't have a soft pith in the center of their branches. And Hercules Club has so many thorns! I could see someone getting Elderberry bushes confused with Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), but only if there weren't any flowers or berries -- the important parts, lol! Anyway, I hope you can spare a few Elder berries, so you can enjoy their flowers! :D

ah good job my friend!

Thanks, @sardrt! There are enough flowers on these shrubs that maybe you would even eat them, lol! You are such a friend of the flowers! ; )

This is such valuable information, thanks so much. I want to print this post and bring it with me on my walks to see if i can spot any elderflower bushes! Thanks so much @haphazard-hstead!

Glad you enjoyed this, @jaymorebeet! I know you have some in your region because I saw so much of it in Washington, DC in June. It was just getting ready to flower then. There may be public gardens or even community gardens that have planted them, too. Once you see it, you will know it.

I hope you can get the Gifs to work on your printed out copy, lol! ; )

I have special paper - gifs come out extra giffy. ;)

wow thats some special paper!

In Hungary, they make pálinka (a fruit brandy) with the elderberry flower (in Hungarian: bodza).
I just drank a little "bodza pálinka" yesterday night.

You know what's good about the elder flowers, that's for sure! Thanks for telling us the Hungarian name. Enjoy your bodza and pa'linka! :D

I do not know if here are some Elder Flowers near here but with your description maybe it very easily to identify, the center of woody it is the easy way to recognize it
Thanks a lot.

There are Sumac (Rhus) and other shrubs with soft pith inside a woody stem. But not with those flowers! The Sambucus peruviana is native to South and Central America -- and I just looked it up and it has been grouped with the Black Elder group (Sambucus nigra) now, too! I hope you are able to find some - maybe in the higher regions. Happy foraging!

I try to identify because the sauco i only listening in harry potter when he has a magic wood of sauco.
Thanks a lot i try to tasted another kind of endible flowers like this.

People think a lot of the Elder wood. It has a strong tradition in Europe. So I can understand why it is in the Harry Potter books!

Once at IKEA, I had a cupcake with elder flower frosting. It was the most magical thing ever! Thanks for this info, I've been wanting to know more about this flower and how I can continue to eat it. :)

That is so cool! Good for IKEA! I would like to know how to make Elder Flower Frosting! If anyone figures it out, I hope they post it here on Steemit and let us both know! Thanks for sharing that!

I am a master chef. I bet I can figure it out! Most likely though as its IKEA its a elderberry flower tincture/extract/oil. I would bet money on it.

You will figure out something delicious!

You know it!

Besides toxic plants, are there things in the nature that you can not make food with? :) @haphazard-hstead

haha -- I still get amazed at how many wonderful plants there are to eat, in every part of the world. I like growing food in my garden, but the plants that take care of themselves in the wild are very special. These Elder Flowers are really good!

If only it is available in my country.
Does the flower have a sour taste since it will produce berries?

No, not sour at all. It's a very clean taste. If you have ever had bee pollen, that is a good comparison.

That will be pleasant-tasting then.
Yeah I had bee pollen before when my mother bought me for my kidney condition when it is still working.
It came in a tablet form, I used to chew it.

Yes, these flowers are very pleasant-tasting!

Beautiful flowers! I think it would be smell good when they come to tea, right?

It smells so good, just wonderful! I think you would like this tea!

I really think so! ;)

I'll write a post on making elder flower tea, soon.

I'm looking forward to reading your post with much interest! ;)

This is actually super awesome to know! I work outside a lot as a white water raft guide, so the more I can learn about plants, the more I can impress my people!

Elder bushes like to grow along rivers, so you could easily have one kind or another where you work!

I love your post!!! I have a Johns and an Adams Elderberry bush and they are beautiful!

Thanks, @marymg2014! You know what's up with elderberry bushes and how great they are for food and landscape! And you know to have two varieties so you can get good pollination! If you make anything from their flowers or berries, I'd enjoy reading about it, for sure! :D If you use the Foraging tag, I'll be sure to see it!

Thank you, I will! I learned a lot from your post. It was greatly appreciated.

We have a number of elderberry bushes in the back yard... "bushes" is a bit of an understatement, I suppose... they're up to about 15 feet and some of the branches exceed 3" now. Haven't ever done much with the flowers-- but grew up with juice made from the ripe berries-- my auntie was the more or less the family's "Elderberry Wine Queen." Unfortunately, we don't end up with a lot of berries as large flocks of starlings tend to make short work of them.

Wow! Those are some good-sized elderberry bushes! I'm glad you enjoyed the berries. The flowers have a completely different flavor, and are a lot less messy, lol! And they taste so pleasant! They make great tea, fresh or dried. I better make a post about that! :D If you try your elder flowers, I'd like to know how you like them!

Another very well done post.
Keep up the great and valuable work!

Thanks, @quinneaker. I'm glad the elderberry bushes do their work, lol! :D

Yes nature ALWAYS does its work!

When we lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, our whole neighbourhood was full of Elder trees. Not just bushes. Some of them were over 8 metres tall. We miss the number of berries we could harvest. Capt'n grew up on Elder flower champagne and Elder Wine as a boy in England. But they don't grow so much around our area of New Zealand where we live now. We have one stunted specimen in a pot but it is less than a metre tall and didn't make any berries last year. Great post. Thank you for making the effort.

Wow! Those a beyond bushes, alright! Wow! That would be a lot of berries and flowers, too. I'm glad you know the great flavors of their flowers and berries, too. I hope you can get your elder bush established in New Zealand, and then maybe get another one for cross-pollination and more berries.

The Capt'n has a father in England that has mentioned sending us some pink elder seeds. I think the small shrub we have is from a white flower variety. Who doesn't want more berries when they taste as good as elder.

I have an elderberry tree in my backyard in Florida. It just grew there, without my planting it - and it grew fast. I did know what it was, because I was used to elderberries in Scotland where some people make wine or jam from the berries. So far, I have used the flowers and berries only for my photography - leaving the berries as a feast for the birds! Maybe I will rethink that strategy now!

You are a lucky person, with that elderberry tree in your backyard. I'm glad you can identify it reliably. Those flowers are so worth appreciating. I'll make a post on Elder flower tea. You will enjoy your bush even more! :D

It grew pretty fast and is really tall now. I bet I would enjoy the tea! My friends in Scotland kept telling me to make elderberrry wine. LOL! I should make elderberry jam, though!

Informative post! I'm just finishing off an elderflower post. It involves drawing and drink!

That's a great post with your Elderberry Flower painting an cordial recipe! And thanks for the shout-out in that post, too! Enjoy your elderberry bush - in all the ways! :D

Upvoted & RESTEEMED!

Thanks, @mrbig, for the resteem and upvote! I hope you can find some elderberry bushes near you!

I'm loading up on my homesteaders following. All your blogs are interesting and informative. So you have my loyal following.
Thanks for being here.
My spread below...

Thanks, @codypanama! Happy homesteading in Panama!

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