Blue Elderberry
Sambucus cerulea Raf.
Family: Caprifoliaceae, Honeysuckle
Genus: Sambucus
Other names:
Nomenclature: coerulea = deep blue (fruits)
Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
Edible plant
Medicinal plant
Poisonous plant

General: coarse shrub, sometimes approaching the size and habit of a tree, normally with several stems from the base, 2-4 m tall, with soft, pithy, waxy-coated twigs.

Leaves: opposite, stalked, pinnately divided, the mostly 7-9 leaflets lanceolate to elliptic, strongly pointed, sharply toothed, the blade unequally extended on the stalk at the base, commonly 5-15 cm long and 2-6 cm wide, hairless or rarely a little hairy beneath. Stipules linear, small and commonly soon dropped, or apparently lacking.

Flowers: numerous in a flat-topped cluster commonly 4-15 cm wide, umbel-shaped, with commonly 4-5 rays from the base, these often again almost umbellately branched. Flowers with strong, unpleasant smell, white or creamy, 4-6 or 7 mm across, the 5 corolla lobes evidently longer than the short flat tube. May-July.

Fruits: berry-like drupes, juicy, round, 4-6 mm thick, bluish-black beneath the dense, waxy bloom, thus appearing pale powdery blue, containing 3-5 small, seedlike stones, each enclosing a seed.


Valley bottoms, along streams and open slopes where not too dry, from low to moderate elevations in the mountains, in w. parts of MT. Also from s. B.C. to CA, AZ and NM.
Edible Uses

The fruits of blue elderberry are edible raw, cooked or used in preserves. Rather sweet and juicy but full of small seeds, this is the best flavored of the North American elders. The berries can cause nausea if eaten raw, but ripe berries are edible when cooked. Although they are small and seedy, they have been eaten by native peoples for 1000's of years. Today, the berries are used to make jam, jelly, pies and wine. The fruit is usually dried before being used. Some caution is advised, see the notes below on toxicity. The flowers are edible raw or cooked in fritters etc. and are said to be very pleasant and refreshing raw. A pleasant tea is made from the dried flowers.

Medicinal Uses

An infusion or extract made from the flowers, bark and root has been used to cure fevers and gripe, it is also laxative. A decoction of the plant has been used as an antiseptic wash to treat itches. The bark is pain-relieving and astringent. An infusion has been used in the treatment of diarrhea and rheumatism. A decoction has been used as a wash in the treatment of swellings and pain. An ointment made by mixing the bark with fat has been used externally in the treatment of burns, ulcers, skin irritations etc. The fresh bark has been placed in a tooth cavity to ease the pain of toothache. The inner bark has agents that strongly induce vomiting. The leaves are pain-relieving, antiseptic, sweat-inducing, fever-reducing and purgative. A decoction has been used in the treatment of new colds. An infusion of the leaves and flowers has been used as a steam bath in the treatment of colds and headaches. A decoction of the leaves has been used as an antiseptic wash on limbs affected by blood poisoning. The crushed leaves have been used as a poultice to treat burns and swollen hands. A decoction of the root has been used in the treatment of bladder problems and dyspepsia. A decoction of the flowers has been used in the treatment of stomach troubles and lung complaints. Applied externally, it has been used to treat sprains and bruises and as an antiseptic wash for open sores and itches. A wine made from the fruit has been used as a tonic.

Poisonous Properties

The leaves, green fruits and stems of some (if not all) members of this genus are poisonous. The stems, bark, leaves and roots contain cyanide-producing glycosides, and are therefore poisonous, especially when fresh. The fruit of this species has been known to cause stomach upsets to some people. Any toxin the fruit might contain is liable to be of very low toxicity and is destroyed when the fruit is cooked.

Other Uses

A decoction of the leaves, when watered on plants, repels caterpillars. The dried flower stems repel insects and rodents. The hollow stems can be used as flutes and pipes. The pith of the stems has been used as a tinder for lighting fires. The wood is light, soft, weak, coarse grained. Of no commercial value, though it is used locally for flutes, skewers, pegs, straws etc.

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