The Complete Guide to Elderberry Shrubs

What is an Elderberry Shrub?

Elderberry shrubs are beautiful and versatile plants that produces delicious and nutritious berries. The elderberry is a woody perennial growing in both North America and Europe, and it has a long and fascinating history of use in traditional medicine and cuisine. Growing elderberries can be a rewarding experience, as they are relatively easy to care for and can produce significant crop yields for many years. They are very productive, fast growing and can tolerate wet and dry sites, which makes them the perfect plants for a garden.

elderberry tree

Why Grow Elderberries?

Elderberries are a wonderful addition to any garden or farm as they offer a variety of benefits. So, if you’re considering growing elderberries, it’s definitely worth giving them a try!

fried elderberry shrub flowers
  • Firstly you can use the flowers to make wine and the fruits for pies, preserves, and drinks.
  • You can use them for medicinal purposes. These berries have high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that make them a popular choice in medicine. People have used elderberries for the common cold, the flu, sinus pain, back and leg pain, nerve pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol, headache, toothache, and weight loss.
  • Plus, elderberry shrubs can also attract beneficial wildlife and insects to your garden.
  • Their shallow and mat-like root systems can help stabilize soil and prevent erosion.
  • Best of all, elderberry plants are generally low-maintenance and can provide a bountiful harvest for many years to come.
elderberry shrub

Is Elderberry a Shrub or a Tree?

Elderberry can be classified as a shrub or a small tree, depending on the cultivar and growing conditions. Generally, it grows as a multi-stemmed shrub that can reach a height of 6 to 12 feet. However, you can prune some cultivars, like the “Lemony Lace” elderberry, to grow as a small tree. Others like the Blue elderberry can grow to 30 feet!

How tall do Elderberry Shrubs Get?

Elderberry shrubs can grow to be quite tall, typically ranging from 6 to 12 feet in height depending on the variety and growing conditions. Some cultivars can even reach heights of up to 30 feet if left unpruned. However, proper pruning can help control the height and shape of the plant, making it more manageable for harvesting and maintenance

Different Varieties of Elderberry Shrubs

The two primary varieties of elderberry used for commercial purposes are the European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). It’s fascinating to note that American elderberry seeds were found in North America dating back a whopping 16,000 years! Although European elderberry is typically grown in Europe and sold in the United States, American elderberry can also be grown commercially in North America. While European elderberry boasts larger and sweeter berries, American elderberry is hardier in the northeastern United States, which is why growers prefer it – it’s native and locally sourced. Other less commonly used elderberry varieties include blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) and red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa).

Here are several different cultivars of elderberry plants with their varying characteristics.


This cultivar of American elderberry is is one of the most common elderberries grown in North America. In fact it is similar to those growing in the wild. In can grow in zones 3-9 and is known for its large berries and high yields. It is a popular choice for making juice and wine.


This cultivar of American elderberry is known for its large, juicy berries and high yields. It is commonly used for making juice, wine, and jam.


This cultivar of American elderberry is reported to have the largest clusters of berries and yield. Additionally it is great for hardiness zones 3-9 and can grow up to 12 feet tall. It also has good disease resistance.

Black Beauty

This cultivar of European elderberry is prized for its dark purple-black berries and ornamental value. In can grow in zones 4-7 and prefers moist/wet conditions. It is often grown in gardens and used as a landscaping plant.


This cultivar of European elderberry is known for its large, flavorful berries and high yields. People grow it for commercial use in Europe.


The blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) is a large deciduous shrub or small tree that is native to western North America, including parts of California, Oregon, and Washington (hardy to zones 3-10). It can grow up to 30 feet tall and has a rounded shape. Its flower clusters can be up to a foot in diameter and are very showy. The blue elderberry produces large clusters of blue-black berries in the late summer, which are edible and highly prized for making jams, jellies, and wine. This species though grows best from seed.

blue elderberry

Which Elderberry Plant is Best?

There is no clear “better” option when it comes to choosing between elderberry plants. All have their own unique qualities and benefits, and the best choice may depend on your specific needs and growing conditions. For example, if you are in eastern North America and want to grow elderberries for their berries, consider York because of its high yield of large berries. Or if you are in the west and want to plant something that is native and tall, consider Blue. If you would like something for wildlife and beauty, consider Adams or Black Beauty.

elderberry shrub flowers

Which Elderberry Plant is Best for Immune System?

Elderberries are very good for your body. Not only do they contain antioxidants which limit the damage of free radicals, but they also boost your immune system, decrease stress and inflammation. People have used both the European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) for their immune-boosting properties. However, the European elderberry has been the subject of more scientific research in this regard, and its extracts have been found to be effective against a wide range of viruses, including the flu. That being said, the American elderberry also contains beneficial compounds that can support immune health and grows better in North America. Additionally research has shown that American elderberry has significantly lower levels of cyanogenic glycosides which are responsible for causing gastrointestinal issues in some individuals who consume elderberries.

Elderberry Shrub Recipe

Elderberry shrub is a type of fruit syrup people make by mixing elderberries, vinegar, and sugar. You then leave the mixture to steep for a few days before straining and mixing with sparkling water or soda to make a refreshing and tangy drink. The vinegar gives the shrub a slightly sour taste, which is balanced out by the sweetness of the elderberries and sugar. You can also use elderberry shrub as a cocktail mixer or as a flavoring for desserts and marinades. It is a popular drink in many parts of the world! Plus it’s healthy due to the antioxidant properties of elderberries.

elderberry shrub recipe

Here’s a simple recipe for making elderberry shrub:


  • 1 cup of elderberries
  • 1 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water


  1. Rinse the elderberries and remove them from the stems.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the elderberries, water, and sugar. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes or until the berries have softened.
  3. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, pressing the berries with a spoon to extract all the juice.
  4. Add the apple cider vinegar to the strained mixture and stir well.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
  6. To serve, mix 1-2 tablespoons of the elderberry shrub with sparkling water or your favorite spirit for a refreshing drink. Enjoy!

Pollination: Do You Need 2 Elderberry Shrubs?

When it comes to pollination of elderberry shrubs, many people wonder if they need to plant more than one shrub to ensure successful fertilization. The answer is yes, elderberries generally require cross-pollination between two different shrubs to produce fruit. This means that planting two or more elderberry shrubs in the same area (no more than 60 feet apart) can help to ensure a better yield of fruit. Additionally, having multiple elderberry shrubs can also help to increase the genetic diversity of the plants, which can improve the health and resilience of the overall crop.

do you need 2 elderberry shrubs

Where do Elderberry Shrubs Grow

Elderberry shrubs grow in various regions around the world, including North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. They grow more commonly in damp or wet areas, such as along streams, rivers, and swampy areas, but can also thrive in drier soils as well. Although this depends on the variety, they can typically grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9, which covers a wide range of climates, from cold and snowy to hot and dry. In the wild, elderberry shrubs often grow in clusters and can form dense thickets. However growers also cultivate them in gardens and on farms.

hardiness zone

Can Elderberry Bushes Grow in Shade?

While elderberry bushes prefer full sun, they can still grow in partial shade. However, elderberries grown in the shade may produce fewer flowers and berries. Their growth may also be slower than those grown in full sun. If you’re planning to grow elderberry bushes in a shaded area, make sure they receive at least four to six hours of sunlight per day.


Elderberry Shrub Care

  1. Soil: Elderberry shrubs prefer well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. They can tolerate a range of soil types but prefer slightly acidic soil.
  2. Water: Elderberry shrubs need regular watering, especially during dry spells. They prefer moist soil, but be careful not to overwater, as they do not like standing water.
  3. Sun: Elderberry shrubs prefer full sun but they can still grow in partial shade.
  4. Fertilizer: Elderberry shrubs do not require a lot of fertilize. However they will benefit from an annual application of compost or well-rotted manure.
  5. Pruning: You should prune elderberry shrubs annually in late winter or early spring before they begin to grow. This will help to promote healthy growth and fruit production.
  6. Pests and diseases: Elderberry shrubs are generally resistant to pests and diseases, but they can be susceptible to powdery mildew. If you notice powdery mildew, treat the plant with a fungicide.
  7. Harvesting: Elderberry shrubs typically produce fruit in mid to late summer. When harvesting, use scissors or pruning shears to cut the fruit clusters from the plant.
how to water tree

When to Prune Elderberry Shrub

Pruning is an important part of maintaining the health and productivity of your elderberry shrubs. The best time to prune your elderberry shrub is in late winter or early spring, while the plant is still dormant. As a result it will be able to heal quickly and begin producing new growth once the growing season begins. Additionally, pruning during this time will not affect the plant’s ability to produce fruit during the current season.

when to prune elderberry

Are Elderberry Shrubs Poisonous to Dogs?

Yes, elderberry plants, including the berries and flowers, can be toxic to dogs if consumed in large quantities. Symptoms of elderberry poisoning in dogs may include vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and in severe cases, seizures or coma. So keep elderberry shrubs and any other potentially toxic plants out of reach of dogs and other pets. If you suspect your dog has consumed elderberries, contact your veterinarian immediately.

are elderberry shrubs poisonous to dogs

Are Elderberry Shrubs Invasive?

An invasive plant is a non-native plant species that starts to grow in a new environment. It also has the ability to spread aggressively, outcompeting native plants and potentially causing harm to the ecosystem.

In certain areas, elderberry shrubs can be invasive. While they are a native species in North America, they can grow and spread quickly in certain environments. This is especially true in moist soils with lots of sun. As a result, they have been listed as invasive species in some states, such as Washington and Oregon. However, when properly managed and pruned, elderberry shrubs can be a valuable addition to a garden or landscape.

Where to Buy Elderberry Shrubs?

  • You can buy elderberry shrubs from a variety of sources, including local nurseries, garden centers, and online plant retailers. Research the different varieties of elderberry shrubs to determine the best fit for your location and needs.
Black Elderberry Shrub

My dad inspires me with his love for trees and his conviction that growing them is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and the ecosystem. That’s why he started to provide all types of unique trees so everyone could enjoy them accessibly. Plus we wanted growers to have the knowledge to grow them well. Feel free to discover these trees by growing them yourself!