The age-old question of ‘Are elderberries poisonous?’ gets a closer look here. They are an amazingly beneficial berry. But, before you jump right into chowing down on a handful of these juicy wonders, it is important to know what elderberries can you eat so you don’t get sick.
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What Elderberries Can You Eat?
There are several species of elderberries, including Sambucus nigra, Sambucus canadensis, and Sambucus mexicana.
Are elderberries poisonous when they come from the Sambucus nigra? No. Not if they have been cooked or processed properly first.
Sambucus nigra, also known as European elder or black elder, is a species of flowering plant in the family Adoxaceae. It is native to Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, but it has been introduced to other parts of the world as an ornamental plant and for medicinal purposes. 1
Sambucus nigra is a deciduous shrub or small tree that can grow up to 5-10 meters in height. It has pinnate leaves with 5-9 leaflets, and it produces clusters of small, white flowers in the summer. The flowers are followed by small, black, edible berries that are commonly used in cooking and natural medicine.
The bark, leaves, flowers, and berries of Sambucus nigra have a long history of use in traditional medicine for a variety of purposes, including to treat respiratory conditions, skin problems, and fevers. Elderberry is also used as a natural remedy for colds, flu, and other viral infections.
Are elderberries poisonous when they come from the Sambucus canadensis? Like with the Sambucus nigra, these are safe to eat when properly prepared.
Sambucus canadensis, also known as American elder or common elder, is also a species of flowering plant coming from the Adoxaceae family. It is native to North America and is widely distributed throughout the United States and Canada. 2
Sambucus canadensis, like Sambucus nigra, is also a deciduous shrub or small tree which is typically a little smaller than Sambucus nigra. It can grow up to 3-9 meters in height and also has pinnate leaves with 5-9 leaflets, with the same blooming and fruiting characteristics as Sambucus nigra.
Like other species of elderberry, Sambucus canadensis has a long history of use in traditional medicine for a variety of purposes.
Are elderberries poisonous when they come from the Sambucus mexicana? Make sure they are ripe, there are no stems or leaves, and they have been processed or cooked to eliminate any toxins, and you’re good to go.
Sambucus mexicana is native to Mexico and Central America, and it is found in a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and wetlands. 3
As a deciduous shrub or small tree, it is typically the smallest in the Sambucus species which normally grows up to 3-5 meters in height.
It too produces the same kind of bloom and fruit with similar benefits and historic uses.
Species Sometimes Mistaken for Elderberry
Elderberry plants (Sambucus spp.) are often mistaken for other plants that are toxic or potentially harmful to humans. This is where you will typically find many crossed wires on ‘Are elderberries poisonous’ based on their lookalikes.
It is important to properly identify plants before consuming them or using them for medicinal purposes to avoid potential risks.
Some plants that are commonly mistaken for elderberries and should not be consumed include:
- European hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)
- This plant is native to Europe and Asia and is commonly mistaken for elderberry due to its similar leaves and white flowers. However, European hogweed is toxic and can cause skin irritation, blistering, and even blindness if the sap comes into contact with the skin or eyes. 4
- Water hemlock (Cicuta spp.)
- This plant is native to North America and is commonly mistaken for elderberry due to its similar flowers and leaves. Water hemlock is one of the most toxic plants in North America and can cause severe symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, seizures, and even death if ingested. 5
- Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.)
- This plant is native to South America and is commonly mistaken for elderberry due to its similar flowers and leaves. Angel’s trumpet is toxic and can cause hallucinations, agitation, and other symptoms if ingested. 6
It is always important to properly identify plants and to only consume plants that have been properly identified as safe to eat.
If you are uncertain about the identity of a plant, it is best to seek the advice of a qualified expert or to avoid consuming it.
3 Important Facts about Elderberries
Fact 1 – Only the flowers and the ripe fruit are suitable for eating.
Fact 2 – Sambunigrin is found in all parts of the plant and as a cyanogenic glycoside it acts as a natural repellent to pests.
Fact 3 – Elderberries can easily be confused with other, much more toxic species – make sure you know what you are doing!
At this stage, you may wish to consider also the comparables between:
- Elderflower vs Elderberry
- Elderberry vs Vitamin C
- Pokeweed vs Elderberry
- Elderberry vs Echinacea
- Elderberry vs Hemlock
Is it Safe to Eat Dried Elderberries?
Are dried elderberries safe to eat? Dried elderberries are generally considered to be safe to eat when they are properly processed and prepared.
However, as mentioned earlier, it is important to note that certain non-fruiting parts of plant contain toxins and should not be consumed. It is also important to properly process and prepare dried elderberries to ensure that any toxins are destroyed.
One suggestion on how to do this is to consider simmering the dried elderberries in water for at least 30 minutes. This is understood to help to destroy any toxins and make the berries safe to eat.
What About Elderberries with Green Stems?
It is important to make sure that elderberries with green stems have had the stems removed. The stems can contain sambunigrin, which we looked at more closely earlier.
Can You Eat Elderberries when Pregnant?
It is not recommended to consume large amounts of elderberries or any other type of food during pregnancy, as this can be harmful to your health and the health of your unborn child.
It is also important to be cautious when using elderberries or any other herb or dietary supplement during pregnancy, as there is limited scientific research on the safety and effectiveness of these products during pregnancy.
If you are pregnant and are considering using elderberries or any other herb or dietary supplement, it is a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider or a knowledgeable herbalist before doing so.
Are Elderberries Safe for Babies?
It is generally not recommended to give elderberries to babies. Elderberries are generally considered to be safe for adults when consumed in moderation as a food, but they may not be safe for babies.
The ripe berries of the elderberry plant are generally considered to be safe to eat when cooked or processed. However, it is not recommended to give cooked or processed elderberries to babies, as their immune systems and digestive systems are still developing and may not be able to handle the berries.
It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before giving any type of food or dietary supplement to a baby. They can guide what is safe and appropriate for your child based on their age, weight, and overall health.
Are Elderberries Safe to Eat?
Are elderberries poisonous or are they safe to eat? Once they have been cooked or processed to a suitable level, they are considered to be safe to eat.
The main aspect to be mindful of here is that the berries are ripe, and all other parts of the plant have been discarded.
Are Cooked Elderberries Poisonous?
Once elderberries have been cooked they are no longer considered to have any harmful toxins in them. The important thing to keep in mind here is that you need to be certain that you are working with elderberries, and not a look-alike species that is hazardous.
How much Elderberry is Toxic?
It is hard to say how much elderberry warrants being deemed toxic. There are many factors to consider as some plants surveyed in particular areas of Ohio in a study were identified as having no harmful toxins.
This is not to say that therefore all elderberries in this area are ok to eat straight off the bush. This was simply one situation where the exception to the rule proved to be interesting. Some plants may have higher than normal levels of toxins if the fruit is not cooked or processed, so it is better to err on the side of caution.
So, are elderberries poisonous? They are best treated as if there is a toxin potential when fresh and properly prepared before consumption.
Make sure you remove all stems, leaves and non-fruiting parts. Also, unripe elderberries should not be consumed as they are considered to have similar toxicity to the leaves and stems.
- “Black elderberry” – P. E. Berry, Last accessed 30 December 2022 [Britannica] [Archive] ↩︎
- “Elderberry” – M. Petruzzello, Last accessed 30 December 2022 [Britannica] [Archive] ↩︎
- “Blue Elderberry Sambucus Mexicana” – CalScap Staff, Last accessed 30 December 2022 [CalScape] [Archive] ↩︎
- “Heracleum sphondylium subsp. montanum (Schleich. ex Gaudin) Briq.” – WFO Staff, Last Accessed 30 December 2022 [WFO] [Archive] ↩︎
- “Cicuta virosa L.” – WFO Staff, Last accessed 30 December 2022 [WFO] [Archive] ↩︎
- “Brugmansia Pers.” – WFO Staff, Last accessed 30 December 2022 [WFO] [Archive] ↩︎
Last Updated on 1 week by D&C Editorial Team