Medicinal Uses of Elderberry Plants

elderberry plants berries

By Kristi Dranginis

Elderberry plants in the northwest include the blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and and the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). They have been used for generations by the native people of the Pacific Northwest as both powerful medicine and vitamin-packed food supplements.

The blue elderberry is found primarily on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, along roadsides running next to rivers and streams. The red elderberry finds the western side of the mountains to be a more hospitable place to reside. You will notice this luscious plant glowing red in forests and along shady roadsides late in the summer.

Nowadays, due to ease of travel, people generally use the blue elderberry for most of their needs, though the red elderberry was a highly useful and important source of food and medicine to the native people of the Northwest coast.

Download Alderleaf's Free Wilderness Survival Guide!

Plus, get nature skills tips delivered to your inbox every month.

Yes, I want the survival guide and free tips.


The blue elderberry plant has been a good friend to me. I love to have the dried flowering tops close at hand when I begin to feel the onset of a cold setting in. I grab a handful of the flowers (delicate small white petals with soft fairy-like pollen), place them gently into a tea strainer, and pour boiling water over top and cover for 10 minutes or so. I will usually add peppermint and sometimes yarrow, an old folk remedy for colds, to this concoction and drink it 3 times a day.

elderberry plants flowers

Both the blue and red elderberry have edible berries rich in vitamins A & C. The blue tends to have a more pleasant flavor. I collect the fresh purplish blue berries late in the summer and cook up a great batch of blue elderberry pancakes the next morning.

I have never tried my hand at wine making, but I have many friends who will make a special trip over the mountains to harvest pounds of the berries just for this purpose. The blue elderberries also make a yummy syrup that can be used on top of pancakes at breakfast or ice cream at dessert.

Cautions Regarding Red Elderberry Plants

When preparing berries from the red elderberry be sure to cook them first, as they may cause nausea when raw. Also, the stems, bark, leaves, and roots contain a cyanide-producing glycoside and should be avoided.

For more information and suggested uses of the elderberry I recommend cross-referencing with Pojar & Mackinnon's book: Plants of The Pacific Northwest Coast, as well as Andrew Chevallier's book: Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine.

Enjoy Elderberry!



Recommended Resources:

Check out our Wild Edible & Medicinal Plants Courses

Read more about elderberry plants at LearningHerbs.com



About the Author: Kristi Dranginis is an experienced naturalist, herbalist, educator, and ornithologist. She has written articles for the Alderleaf website. Learn more about Kristi Dranginis.



Return from Elderberry Article back to Wild Plants Articles

Knowledge is Power - Grow Your Wilderness Skills! Get monthly updates on new wilderness skills articles, upcoming courses, and special opportunities. Join the free Alderleaf eNewsletter:

Call: (360) 793-8709
Office Hours: Tues & Thurs,
10am-4pm, PST



wilderness survival guideThe Six Keys to Survival:
Get a free copy of our survival mini-guide and monthly tips!
Learn more



Visit the Course Calendar:

course calendar