OUTSIDE  THE  NUTSHELL:    Elderberries

Recent interest in producing elderberries for the health food and wine markets has drawn the attention of nutgrowers who are seeking alternative sources of income until their nut orchards mature. Tree spacings of 30’ X 30’ and up leave a great deal of open space in the young orchard that seemingly beg to be put to good use until the nut trees mature. The Common elderberry, Sambucus nigra, occurs naturally from northern Quebec and western Alberta and British Columbia south to northwestern Mexico and into South America. It is a familiar shrub along streams, rivers, and in open areas, growing in moist, well-drained sunny sites.


Photo: Elderberry Starts, March, 2011

Fruit Or Wood?
Elderberry juice is highly valued in the health food industry its antioxidant values exceed those of blueberry and raspberry.Most elderberry wine is produced using imported juice although several regional wineries take pride in using locally grown fruit. Elderberry fruit can also be used to make jelly, syrup, and refined as an extract and colorant. There is also a market for the flowers which are dipped in batter and fried as well as being dried for use in tea.

General Production Notes:
Elderberry can be propagated from seed, cuttings, and by transplanting existing stock. Elderberries produce a good seed crop almost every year and the seeds may remain viable for up to 16 years in storage. Plants with superior production qualities are best propagated by cuttings which may be taken from both dormant and actively growing wood, or by divisions from quality stock plants.

Elderberries prefer a heavy soil, high in organic content. They do best with ample moisture and will tolerate poor drainage. They are not drought tolerant and produce best in full sun.

Plants are set 4-5 feet apart in rows that are 10-12 feet apart to accommodate equipment.

Fruit is borne on new growth. Two pruning cycles are recommended. The first removes all wood once the plants become dormant. This narrows the harvest window the following year but reduces the crop. The second cycle leaves stems from the current year. This increases yield but widens the harvest window. In years when spring winds break off new growth, this practice will reduce damage to the orchard.

Elderberries have few significant insect pests. Deer will occasionally feed on the new growth. The fruit does attract birds.

Harvest Equipment Needs:
Pruning shears, food-quality containers, and hand laborers will suffice. Fruit is perishable and should be chilled or processed within 24 hours. Harvest is typically over a three week period in August/September.

Markets:
An Oklahoma winery advertised to buy locally grown elderberries in 2010. A Kansas winery produces its own signature bottle. We presume a similar product could be developed in the Missouri wine industry. While there is interest in the health food industry for juice products, we are not aware of any specific buyers or market opportunities.

Fair Warning:
We are currently awaiting additional information from those who are planting elderberries on a large scale and exploring developing markets.

Selected Resources:

The following resources are available on line.

Fruit Production for the Home Gardner: Elderberries. (Pennsylvania State University, 2008)

A review of Production Information for Elderberries

Elderberry Research and Production in Missouri. (Missouri State University and Cornell University, 2005)

Common Elderberry Plant Guide (USDA NRCS,2005)

Elderberry Financial Decision Support Tool

Elderberry (University of Kentucky)


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