Respect your elderberries!

Print Article

Photo by DON BARTLING Traditionally, Native Americans used elderberries to treat infections, while the ancient Egyptians used it to improve their complexions and heal burns. It’s still gathered and used in folk medicine across Europe.

Many wild berry species make their home on the banks of rivers and streams in Boundary County, where the fertile soil that accumulates produces abundant crops. One that is in full color now along the rivers and streams is the blue elderberry.

Blue elderberry (Sambucus Caerulea) is a large, deciduous shrub or small tree, growing as tall as 30 feet. The blue elderberry is distinguishable from other elderberries by the glaucous powder coating on its bluish-black berries. The leaves are commonly 1-6 inches long and 1-2.5 inches wide. It has cream or yellow flowers in the spring and purple berries in the fall. Its berries are one of the most important sources of food for birds in the Northwest.

Sometimes propagated as an ornamental shrub, the elderberry bush is a member of the honeysuckle family. It’s actually a small tree, with an abundance of delicate white flowers emerging as berry clusters generally between August and October, mostly in cool-to-warm areas of the country, like the northwest United States and Canada.

The blue elderberry is a uniquely American fruit familiar to the nation’s first inhabitants. Traditional uses for elderberries by Native Americans, who made use of every little part of the plant, included tools crafted from the branches, such as arrow shafts and pipes, as well as the berries.

In 1899, an American sailor accidentally discovered that cheap port wine colored with elderberries relieved his arthritis. This may have been the basis for a number of experiments on the healing properties of this fruit.

Other traditional uses of elderberry flowers are as external antiseptic washes and poultices to treat wounds, and as eye wash for inflammation. It’s been used for cosmetic purposes for millennia due to the reputation of distilled elderberry flower water to soften, tone and restore the skin and lighten freckles. The flowers can also be steeped in oil to make a lotion that relaxes sore muscles and soothes burns, sunburn and rashes.

Some early tribes used the wood from the elderberry to make musical instruments, such as flutes, clappers, and small whistles; and smoking implements. Soft wood was used as a spindle “twirling stick” to make fire by friction. Stems and berries were also used as a dye for basket weaving materials.

This shrub has soft, smooth, gray-brownish bark with corky bumps. There is spongy, white pith inside the twigs and branches. The elderberry bush produces showy white umbel flowers in the spring. Edible bluish-black fruit ripens in drooping clusters late summer and early fall.

The blue elderberry bush attracts birds and butterflies and can be pruned back every few years to keep it looking good in a landscaped garden.

Enjoy Boundary County and its beauty in the fall.

Print Article

Read More Outdoors

‘Birds of Prey’ educate Boundary County

December 13, 2018 at 6:00 am | Bonners Ferry Herald “Who Who Wants to See Live Raptors” was the title of the program by Raptor Biologist Janie Veltkamp and Don Veltkamp from Birds of Prey Northwest and hosted by Friends of Kootenai National Wildlife R...

Comments

Read More

Rough-legged hawk: A visitor from the north

December 06, 2018 at 6:00 am | Bonners Ferry Herald “Anyone who has ever stopped to watch a hawk in flight will know that this is one of the natural world’s most elegant phenomena.” — John Burnside Recently I was driving on a “picture safari” in the ...

Comments

Read More

Trees that stay forever green!

November 29, 2018 at 6:00 am | Bonners Ferry Herald “The smell of pine needles, spruce and the smell of a Christmas Tree-these to me, are the scents of the holidays.” — Blake Lively The overarching reason that pine needles may be a favorite scent ...

Comments

Read More

The wild turkey: So much more than Thanksgiving dinner

November 22, 2018 at 6:00 am | Bonners Ferry Herald Ben Franklin called the wild turkey a “bird of courage” and thought it would make a better national symbol than the bald eagle. The wild turkey is a very different creature than its factory farm-rai...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

(208) 267-5521
Po Box 539
Bonners Ferry, Id 83805

©2018 Bonners Ferry Herald Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X
X