Elderberries have potential for Montana fruit growers. The berries are sought after for their medicinal and health properties. Global production is concentrated in Europe using European or Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra spp. nigra). The trial will compare standard European cultivars (Samdal and Samyl) to new and older cultivars selected from American Elderberry (Sambucus nigra spp. canadensis, formerly known as S. Canadensis). These varieties differ from the wild elderberries in Montana.  Native species in Montana include- Rocky Mountain Elder (Sambucus racemosa var. melanocarpa); Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa); Blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra spp. cerulea).  These species are edible, however caution and proper identification should be observed. The dark blue/purple berries can be eaten when fully ripe but are mildly poisonous in their unripe state. The ripe berries can cause illness if eaten raw, therefore, it  is advised to only consume cooked preparations of juice, syrup, or baked goods. All green parts of the plant are poisonous (leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots), containing cyanogenic glycosides (glycoside that gives rise to cyanide through metabolism). Illness may range from mild intestinal disturbance to that requiring hospitalization

Mistaken Identity

In some cases, foragers have mistaken Water hemlock for Elderberry. This has typically been in the harvest of leaves or roots as the leaves have some similarities. However, the Water hemlock bears seeds, not fleshy berries. It is very poisonous leading rapidly to vomiting, seizures and, in many cases, death. There is no antidote and the success of supportive therapy depends on the amount of plant ingested. Only harvest from plants that have been correctly identified as elderberry/edible. Sambucus racemosa (Red Elderberry) is NOT edible.

History of Cultivars

Though humans have enjoyed elderberry for centuries, most of the fruit has been harvested from wild plants. There are only a few cultivars currently available. Most have been harvested from wild plants.  Ideally, a cultivar would be well adjusted to different climates, be self-fruitful (not require another cultivar to bear fruit) have uniform ripening within clusters and among clusters, have large, firm, dark, glossy berries with small seeds. The varieties to be trialed at WARC (as the only site) are 'Ranch', 'Johns', 'Samyl', 'Nova', 'Adams 2', 'Wyldewood', 'Bob Gordon' and 'Samdal'.


Variety Origin Parentage Description  
'Adams 2' New York
Wild harvest by
William Adams 1926
Lg fruit clusters/berries
reddish stems
'Bob Gordon'  Found near Osceola, MO 1999    
'Johns' Kentville, Nova Scotia  1954 Parentage Unknown  
Wyldewood Collected near Brush Hill, OK (1995)    High yield, lg. berry size, later harvest
'Nova' Kentville, Nova Scotia  Seedling of Adams 2 (1959)  Lg. fruit. Ripens early. Sweeter than 'Kent' and 'Victoria'