Native shrubs are great in the landscape to attract birds, bees and butterflies. It also helps when they're beautiful and produce edible fruits. That's why I like elderberries.
Elderberries are tough shrubs that tolerate part shade and wet soil conditions to produce white flowers and tasty black berries in summer. While just collecting berries from wild shrubs growing in abandoned fields and is fine, growing specific varieties for beauty or berry production is better.
If you’re interested in berries, look for American elderberry varieties such as York and Nova, which produce clusters of large sized berries that are easy to harvest and process. If you’re growing them for an edible landscape shrub, try European varieties such as the purple-foliaged Black Beauty and Black Lace or the chartreuse colored Lemony Lace.
Plant shrubs 4 to 6 feet apart in full to part sun and preferably in well drained, but moist soil. Keep shrubs well pruned. Remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches in spring. Plus, any branches older than 3 years should also be removed to encourage new growth. Elderberries produce the most flowers and berries on 1- and 2-year-old shoots. Use netting to keep birds away from the berries.
Harvest the flowers to make wine, champagne or to float as a relaxant in a hot bath. Use the berries to make juice, wine, or jam. Elderberry juice also makes a great winter tonic syrup mixed with apple cider vinegar and honey. To more easily separate the berries from the stem, place clusters in a freezer over night. The berries will fall off easier the next day.