Are elderberries toxic?

Every once in a while I get questions from people trying to learn about edibles. This is one such post.  I hope some find it helpful.

Question:

I saw your post about elderberries

I do not live anywhere near enough to attend your courses (so if you would oblige me), how can I be sure elderberry is edible when so many other sites say they are poisonous?

My Answer:



The other sites are just spouting one myth after another. My research goes beyond that. I have eaten them. Lots of them and I have eaten them raw with no ill effect whatsoever. The only story I can find about toxicity of elderberry is a story that has not been corroborated about 6 people down in the Southwest USA that cold pressed a large amount of elderberries. They made juice from these raw elderberries and then drank all the juice. One person drank 6 cups of this raw pressed juice and was hospitalized. Sounds scary when all you hear is that somebody who drank elderberry juice was hospitalized but that’s like saying my son almost died from eating a peanut therefore peanuts are poisonous.

What is missing?
Who were these people?
Was alcohol involved?
Were the berries ripe or some green or not so ripe?

If you cold press a large amount of apples and make raw applejuice (or any other fruit for that matter) and your body is not used to such a diet you will get indigestion. You will feel very sick and you may go to the hospital. Does that mean that the fruit or juice was the only factor and is therefore toxic or poisonous?

You also need to recognize the difference between the words toxic and poisonous. Some people think they share the same definition. Not so.

Finally, get your advice from credible sources. As I said before, many of these people who pass on the myth are doing just that. They read somewhere that it is toxic and so they pass that on with no research. My research includes books from Samuel Thayer who actually forages a lot as I do. He eats this stuff and has done many tests on them as well and he is a much better guide than others who have not spent their time eating from the wild.

I had a recent experience with a person from out of state who wrote a cookbook about eating from the wild. This person contacted me to help put together some gift packages for people she is doing a presentation for and I was impressed that this person has a cookbook created for the kind of stuff I teach people about. What I found out as we began to work together on this project is that this person has no first hand knowledge about the topic. I don’t know where the recipes came from but they obviously were not from first hand knowledge. Unfortunately people do that all the time in today’s world and that is why we have the continuation of such myths.

One last thought on Elderberries comes from my family history. I was reading in some stories about my ancestors and found a story where they mention harvesting elderberries and currants and service berries. Everything I have been recently learning about was mentioned casually in their story because back then it was a way of life. This was pre-1900 in Tooele Utah. This is another story that makes me feel safe with these berries. Keep in mind of course that they often dried them or made preserves with them. I don’t think I would just make it into juice and then drink it all in once sitting.

Bottom line is I eat these things to test after I have verified all I can about identification and edibility. If you choose to take my first hand knowledge and try something yourself I hope you enjoy the experience and I hope you do it wisely. I only teach edibles and encourage eating a wild plant when I am certain about it’s edibility but of course your actions are your own and you must do all your own research to verify. Start little by little and enjoy foraging. Don’t be afraid of it.

3 thoughts on “Are elderberries toxic?

  1. Bob Lamb

    Did you eat blue or black or red elderberries? I’ve read black aren’t very toxic. I’ve read red are the most toxic. I’ve pick and eaten the blue ones in Utah and got very sick from only a handful on some ice cream. Very bad diahria (spelling?) for a few hours and very upset stomach for several hours. Cooked they are no problem. DO NOT EAT the blue ones raw! Make great syrup cooked!

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      I’ve eaten both red and blue. I prefer the blue. I eat them as I’m harvesting and I’ve eaten them frozen and dried all year. My children have also had them frozen in small quantities with no ill effects whatsoever. I’m inclined to believe it is likely a combination of two things.

      One, some people are more susceptible to the toxicity.
      Two, they may be eaten when not fully ripe.

      It’s always a good idea to try new things sparingly and these berries are probably best in jam or syrup anyway. Personally I will continue to eat them in the field, dried and frozen as well as cooked.

      Reply
  2. TC

    Red Elderberries may be considered “mildly” toxic, but that is in reference to the seeds in the berries. De-seeded and/or cooked red Elderberries are completely fine to consume. My family and I have harvested red Elderberries yearly for 15+ years, making syrup, jam, jelly, etc. We’ve never had any problems with getting sick from the berries. However, we always cook them to make things from the berries.

    Reply

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