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Toxic parts

The leaves and stems of this species are poisonous[1][2]. The fruit has been known to cause stomach upsets to some people[3][2]. The unripe fruit contains a toxic alkaloid and cyanogenic glycosides[4]. Any toxin the fruit might contain is liable to be of very low toxicity and is destroyed when the fruit is cooked[3][2].

Edible uses


Fruit - raw or cooked[5][6][7][8][9]. A bittersweet flavour, the fruits are about 5mm in diameter and are borne in large clusters[10][11]. They are at their best after being dried[12], the fresh raw fruit has a rather rank taste[13]. The fruit is normally cooked and used in pies, jams, jellies, sauces, bread etc[12][14][15]. Rich in vitamin C[15]. Some caution is advised, see notes above on toxicity.

Flowers - raw or cooked. They are often covered in batter and made into fritters[16]. The flowers can be picked when unopened, pickled and then used as a flavouring in candies etc[17][11]. They can also be soaked in water to make a drink[17]. A pleasant tasting tea is made from the dried flowers[18][14][15][9].

Young shoots are said to be edible when cooked and to be used as an asparagus substitute[7][16] though, since the leaves are also said to be poisonous, this report should be viewed with some doubt.




Unknown part


Material uses

The leaves and inner bark of young shoots are used as an insect repellent[19][13][17][14][9], the dried flowering shoots are said to repel insects and rodents[13]. A decoction of the leaves can be used as an insecticide[20]. It is prepared by boiling 3 - 4 handfuls of leaves in a litre of water, then straining and allowing to cool before applying. Effective against many insects, it also treats various fungal infections such as leaf rot and powdery mildew[20].

A black dye is obtained from the bark[17]. When grown near a compost heap, the root activity of this plant encourages fermentation in the compost heap[21].

The stems can be easily hollowed out to be used as drains in tapping the sap from trees such as the Sugar Maples (Acer spp). the stems can also be used as whistles and flutes[17][14].

Medicinal uses(Warning!)

American elder was widely employed as a medicinal herb by many native North American tribes who used it to treat a wide range of complaints[9]. It is still commonly used as a domestic remedy.

A tea made from the inner bark and root bark is diuretic, emetic and a strong laxative[22][9]. A tea made from the root bark is used to promote labour in childbirth and in treating headaches, kidney problems and mucous congestion[18][9]. The inner bark is also applied as a poultice to cuts, sore or swollen limbs etc in order to relieve pain and swelling[22][9]. A poultice of the leaves is applied to bruises and to cuts in order to stop the bleeding[22]. An infusion of the leaf buds is strongly purgative[18]. Elder flowers are stimulant, diaphoretic and diuretic[23][9]. A warm tea of the flowers is stimulant and induces sweating, taken cold it is diuretic[18]. It is used in the treatment of fevers and infant colic[9]. An infusion of the leaves and flowers is used as an antiseptic wash for skin problems, wounds etc[18]. The fresh juice of the fruit, evaporated into a syrup, is laxative. It also makes a good ointment for treating burns when mixed with an oily base[18]. The dried fruit can be made into a tea that is useful in the treatment of cholera and diarrhoea[18].

Some caution should be exercised if using any part of the plant fresh since it can cause poisoning[18].


Ecosystem niche/layer

Ecological Functions

Nothing listed.


Nothing listed.


Nothing listed.


Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame, when it should germinate in early spring. Stored seed can be sown in the spring in a cold frame but will probably germinate better if it is given 2 months warm followed by 2 months cold stratification first[24][25][26]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. If good growth is made, the young plants can be placed in their permanent positions during the early summer. Otherwise, either put them in a sheltered nursery bed, or keep them in their pots in a sheltered position and plant them out in spring of the following year.

Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 7 - 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame[24]. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, 15 - 20cm with a heel, late autumn in a frame or a sheltered outdoor bed[24].

Division of suckers in the dormant season.

Practical Plants is currently lacking information on propagation instructions of Sambucus canadensis. Help us fill in the blanks! Edit this page to add your knowledge.


Tolerates most soils, including chalk[10], but prefers a moist loamy soil[27][10]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Tolerates some shade but is best in a sunny position[28]. Tolerates atmospheric pollution and coastal situations[10].

A very hardy plant, when dormant it tolerates temperatures down to about -34°c[10]. The flowers have a muscatel smell[29]. A fast-growing but short-lived plant[30], it often forms thickets by means of root suckers[10]. It is occasionally cultivated for its edible fruit, there are several named varieties[15], though these have mainly been developed for their ornamental value[31]. Yields of up to 7kg of fruit per tree have been recorded[32].

Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[10].


Problems, pests & diseases

Associations & Interactions

There are no interactions listed for Sambucus canadensis. Do you know of an interaction that should be listed here? edit this page to add it.

Polycultures & Guilds

There are no polycultures listed which include Sambucus canadensis.




None listed.


None listed.

Full Data

This table shows all the data stored for this plant.

Binomial name
Sambucus canadensis
Imported References
Material uses & Functions
Edible uses
None listed.
Material uses
None listed.
Medicinal uses
None listed.
Functions & Nature
Provides forage for
Provides shelter for
Hardiness Zone
Heat Zone
full sun
light shade
Soil PH
Soil Texture
Soil Water Retention
Environmental Tolerances
  • Strong wind
Native Climate Zones
None listed.
Adapted Climate Zones
None listed.
Native Geographical Range
None listed.
Native Environment
None listed.
Ecosystem Niche
None listed.
Root Zone Tendancy
None listed.
Deciduous or Evergreen
Herbaceous or Woody
Life Cycle
Growth Rate
Mature Size
4 x 4 meters
Flower Colour
Flower Type


  1. ? Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants. Hamlyn ISBN 0-600-37216-2 (1981-00-00)
  2. ? Cooper. M. and Johnson. A. Poisonous Plants in Britain and their Effects on Animals and Man. HMSO ISBN 0112425291 (1984-00-00)
  3. ? 3.03.1 Frohne. D. and Pf?nder. J. A Colour Atlas of Poisonous Plants. Wolfe ISBN 0723408394 (1984-00-00)
  4. ? Diggs, Jnr. G.M.; Lipscomb. B. L. & O'Kennon. R. J [Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas] Botanical Research Institute, Texas. (1999-00-00)
  5. ? 5.05.1 Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World. Dover Publications ISBN 0-486-20459-6 (1972-00-00)
  6. ? 6.06.1 Simmons. A. E. Growing Unusual Fruit. David and Charles ISBN 0-7153-5531-7 (1972-00-00)
  7. ? Harris. B. C. Eat the Weeds. Pivot Health (1973-00-00)
  8. ? 8.08.1 Harrington. H. D. Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains. University of New Mexico Press ISBN 0-8623-0343-9 (1967-00-00)
  9. ? Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany Timber Press. Oregon. ISBN 0-88192-453-9 (1998-00-00)
  10. ? Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992. MacMillan Press ISBN 0-333-47494-5 (1992-00-00)
  11. ? Vines. R.A. Trees of North Texas University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292780206 (1982-00-00)
  12. ? Elias. T. and Dykeman. P. A Field Guide to N. American Edible Wild Plants. Van Nostrand Reinhold ISBN 0442222009 (1982-00-00)
  13. ? Turner. N. J. and Szczawinski. A. Edible Wild Fruits and Nuts of Canada. National Museum of Natural Sciences (1978-00-00)
  14. ? McPherson. A. and S. Wild Food Plants of Indiana. Indiana University Press ISBN 0-253-28925-4 (1977-00-00)
  15. ? Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications ISBN 0-9628087-0-9 (1990-00-00)
  16. ? Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World. Keigaku Publishing (1976-00-00)
  17. ? Vines. R. A. Trees of Central Texas. University of Texas Press ISBN 0-292-78958-3 (1987-00-00)
  18. ? Lust. J. The Herb Book. Bantam books ISBN 0-553-23827-2 (1983-00-00)
  19. ? 19.019.1 Mabey. R. Plants with a Purpose. Fontana ISBN 0-00-635555-2 (1979-00-00)
  20. ? Allardice.P. A - Z of Companion Planting. Cassell Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-304-34324-2 (1993-00-00)
  21. ? 21.021.1 Philbrick H. and Gregg R. B. Companion Plants. Watkins (1979-00-00)
  22. ? Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America. Houghton Mifflin Co. ISBN 0395467225 (1990-00-00)
  23. ? 23.023.1 Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food. Ballantine Books ISBN 0-449-90589-6 (1980-00-00)
  24. ? Sheat. W. G. Propagation of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers. MacMillan and Co (1948-00-00)
  25. ? Gordon. A. G. and Rowe. D. C. f. Seed Manual for Ornamental Trees and Shrubs. ()
  26. ? Dirr. M. A. and Heuser. M. W. The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation. Athens Ga. Varsity Press ISBN 0942375009 (1987-00-00)
  27. ? 27.027.1 Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement. Murray (1981-00-00)
  28. ? F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956 Oxford University Press (1951-00-00)
  29. ? Genders. R. Scented Flora of the World. Robert Hale. London. ISBN 0-7090-5440-8 (1994-00-00)
  30. ? Elias. T. The Complete Trees of N. America. Field Guide and Natural History. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. ISBN 0442238622 (1980-00-00)
  31. ? Thomas. G. S. Ornamental Shrubs, Climbers and Bamboos. Murray ISBN 0-7195-5043-2 (1992-00-00)
  32. ? Natural Food Institute, Wonder Crops. 1987. ()
  33. ? Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named PFAFimport-43

Facts about "Sambucus canadensis"RDF feed
Article is incompleteYes +
Article requires citationsNo +
Article requires cleanupYes +
Belongs to familyCaprifoliaceae +
Belongs to genusSambucus +
Has binomial nameSambucus canadensis +
Has common nameAmerican Elder +
Has drought toleranceIntolerant +
Has edible partFlowers +, Fruit +, Leaves + and Unknown part +
Has edible useUnknown use + and Tea +
Has environmental toleranceHigh wind +
Has fertility typeInsects +
Has flowers of typeHermaphrodite +
Has growth rateVigorous +
Has hardiness zone3 +
Has lifecycle typePerennial +
Has material partUnknown part +
Has material useCompost +, Dye +, Fungicide +, Insecticide +, Musical +, Repellent + and Straw +
Has mature height4 +
Has mature width4 +
Has medicinal partUnknown part +
Has medicinal useAntiinflammatory +, Aperient +, Birthing aid +, Diaphoretic +, Diuretic +, Emetic +, Expectorant +, Laxative +, Purgative + and Stimulant +
Has search namesambucus canadensis + and american elder +
Has shade toleranceLight shade +
Has soil ph preferenceAcid +, Neutral + and Alkaline +
Has soil texture preferenceSandy +, Loamy +, Clay + and Heavy clay +
Has sun preferenceFull sun +
Has taxonomic rankSpecies +
Has taxonomy nameSambucus canadensis +
Has water requirementsmoderate +
Is deciduous or evergreenDeciduous +
Is herbaceous or woodyWoody +
Is taxonomy typeSpecies +
PFAF cultivation notes migratedNo +
PFAF edible use notes migratedNo +
PFAF material use notes migratedNo +
PFAF medicinal use notes migratedNo +
PFAF propagation notes migratedNo +
PFAF toxicity notes migratedNo +
Tolerates nutritionally poor soilNo +
Tolerates windYes +
Uses mature size measurement unitMeters +
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