You know we at Country Culture really enjoy directing your attention to the lesser known holidays and the more fun side of agriculture and horticulture, but sometimes even we don’t understand the timing of certain events.
February, for instance, is Elderberry Month. The small, tart and healthy berries usually aren’t ripe until summertime, so why celebrate them now? As far as we can tell, just the idea of them and the hot and humid conditions in which they thrive may help pull us through this last stretch of winter.
First, your biology lesson, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service: American black elderberry grow as small to large shrubs, with a few small trees. Elderberry species are known from North and South America, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific.
This shrub is usually 6.5 to 13 feet tall, usually on the smaller end than larger. Many somewhat weak stems arise from the crown. Leaves are thin, toothed, green on top and paler underneath. Flowers are borne in five- to nine-inch wide clusters (inflorescences) at the tips of branches. Clusters may contain several hundred flowers. The white four- to five-petaled flowers are small, only about a tenth of an inch wide. Fruits are purple-black berries about a quarter-inch in diameter.
American black elderberry is usually found in moist, edge habitat, in full or light shade. It is often on lake and pond shores, low areas along road ways, in low forest and old fields. It flowers in June to July, depending on the part of the country in which it is found. Bees, wasps and beetles are strongly attracted to the flowers. The fruits ripen in late summer.
The flowers of the elderberry are used to make wine; the fruits are used to make pies and various jams and preserves. Many varieties are available commercially for ornamental as well as culinary use. As some people react negatively to the raw fruit, they should not be eaten unless cooked.
Perhaps you saw our TikTok about how to make elderberry syrup. It’s easy and it smells delicious. Before you get to that point, though, you need to plant them. It’s ideal to start the seeds in autumn, but now is as good a time as any.
Plant your elderberry seeds in a moist, shady area – it’s best to plant them a half-inch deep in rich soil in flats or in gallon pots, as they take a long time to come up, and control is needed. Give them love through the end of this winter and into spring before transplanting them and you’ll be staining your fingers purple with their fruits in no time.