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American Elderberry & the Elderberry Borer

9-9-13 American elderberry 183Interestingly, while the ripe fruit of American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is used in the production of wine, pies and jelly, the leaves, stems, roots and unripe fruits of this plant are poisonous, due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals. Elderberry Borers (Desmocerus palliates) seem immune to these crystals, however. They lay their eggs at the base of the plant, and the hatching larvae then burrow their way into the stems and eat tunnels into the roots of the plant. Adult beetles that emerge and are present through the summer are hard to miss, with their shimmering blue and yellow/orange outer wings, or elytra.

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11 responses

  1. patricia corrigan

    This is the berry that was used in that drink, Elderberry Presse, that Kath and I had at the Avoca Cafe in Dublin.


    September 9, 2013 at 12:16 pm

  2. Kathie Fiveash

    Does the beetle larva damage the plant? Should those of us who cultivate elderberries be concerned?

    September 9, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    • Hi Kathie,
      Yes there is some damage to the plant, but 1) elderberry borers are far from common and 2) you can control it if you cut out the dead infected canes and the dead canes. I’ve only seen one borer in my lifetime…

      Here’s an extension service note:
      The larval stage of the elder shoot borer, Achatodes zeae (Harris), is a worm that bores in the stems and shoots. The adult moth lays eggs in July and August in canes at least 1 year old. Eggs hatch the following April or May. The larvae feed first within the unfolding leaf whorls, then bore into new lateral shoots. When partially grown, they migrate to the ground shoots, entering these at the bases and feeding upwards into the shoots. When the larvae are fully grown in mid-June, they leave the ground shoots and tunnel into dead canes to pupate, leaving small piles of frass (sawdust) on the ground at the base of the old wood. To control, prune out infested shoots or canes. Eliminate dead canes to discourage pupation. Remove old canes with holes or with piles of frass at their bases. Destroy all prunings.

      September 9, 2013 at 9:06 pm

  3. Heinrich Wurm

    I grew up with elderberry compote and juices and love the tangy sweetness. Seems like the borer didn’t make it to Europe, yet. Here is an interesting publication on the medicinal potential of samba us nigra as an antiviral agent.

    September 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm

  4. Jean Harrison

    Are the flowers poisonous? I mix them in pancake batter to make fluffy, slightly sweet pancakes. (I put the ripe berries in pancakes too, later.)

    September 10, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    • From every source I’ve consulted, the flowers are edible — which makes sense, if the fruit is!

      September 10, 2013 at 2:31 pm

  5. janetpesaturo

    Yes, both flowers and fruits are definitely edible. I cannot bring myself to harvest the flowers, because fewer flowers on the plant mean fewer berries, and I absolutely love the berries for jelly and syrup. I recently posted my recipe for elderberry ice cream with chocolate hazelnut crunch, as well as an article on identification of Sambucus canadensis, which some consider to be identical to the European S. nigra. (And I was just in England and have to say I could not see any difference between these two plants)
    Plant id:

    September 16, 2013 at 10:03 pm

  6. Moira Yip

    In England we also use the flowers of the elderberry to make a cordial, or to cook with gooseberries.

    September 20, 2013 at 11:05 am

  7. Karla Hunter, owner Elder Berry Gardens

    Thank you for the information on the elderberry borer, but I believe that the poisonous compound in the elderberry plant is a cyanogenic glycoside, meaning that it is a compound that when ingested turns into a form of cyanide, and that is the reason that one should not eat any other part of the plant other than the fruits (well ripened and preferably cooked) and flowers. See the website:

    June 22, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    • Thank you so much for correcting me! You’re spot on.

      June 22, 2014 at 4:21 pm

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