A wonderful treat in the fall comes from a beautiful plant called Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). Elderberries can be grown as a fruit-bearing ornamental, which means that it has beautiful flowers and leaves, but also produces great fruits. Typically, the fruits are used to make tea, pies, jam, jelly, juice, or wine. Products made from elderberry also are used as herbal remedies for the common cold and flu, as well as to help boost your immune and respiratory systems.
Elderberry is a multi-stemmed shrub, 6-10 feet tall, and 6-12 feet wide. It will grow hardy in zones 3-6, which includes all of Nebraska. The common cultivars that we may find around southeast Nebraska include York, Adams, and the cutleaf variety known as Laciniata. Elderberry leaves are compound leaves consisting of approximately 7 leaflets. Large groupings of small white flowers bloom in June in large balls, similar to hydrangeas. In the fall, such as August and September, the fruits will ripen. Elderberry fruits are small, approximately ¼- inch, purple-black berries found in clusters on the plant.
Elderberry shrubs are used by wildlife for food and for habitat cover. In fact, 79 species of wildlife benefit from this shrub in one way or another, according to Scott Josiah of the Nebraska Forest Service and Jeanne Lackey from the Arbor Day Foundation. Domestic animals have been found to feed on Elderberry leaves and twigs, as well. Native Americans used this plant for all sorts of purposes, including using the berries for food, the hollow stems for pipes or musical instruments, the larger stems for arrow shafts, and the flowers for external antiseptic washes.
If you decide to plant an elderberry shrub on your acreage this fall, remember to put it in a good location. Elderberries prefer locations with partial shade; they like to be cool and moist rather than be hot and dry. They should not be grown in areas where water will set for more than one day. They also need to be spaced out properly so that they have good air flow around the full grown plant to reduce the incidence of leaf diseases, which is the same for just about any plant. When you do plant elderberries, you should plant two or more varieties within 60 feet of each other for cross pollination and better fruit production.