Messages posted to thread:

Kirsten05-Jan-02 08:10 PM EST 4a   
Susan05-Jan-02 10:08 PM EST 6a   
Marg06-Jan-02 01:37 PM EST 5b   
Ed`06-Jan-02 03:03 PM EST 5   
Susan06-Jan-02 05:40 PM EST 6a   
Kirsten06-Jan-02 09:13 PM EST 4a   
Alex06-Jan-02 09:18 PM EST 3a   
Kirsten06-Jan-02 09:46 PM EST 4a   

Subject: Sambucus Nigra
From: Kirsten
Zone: 4a
Date: 05-Jan-02 08:10 PM EST

Christmas time is hardly over, the snow is just about to cover everything properly, but my head is already spinning from all the plans and new ideas for my garden:-)One of the things upmost in my mind is finding flowering bushes with edible fruits (for juice, jams etc.) I would really like to get a Sambucus Nigra (used to drink a lot of elder-berry juice when I was a kid), but I'm not sure if I can find it here. Would the Sambucus Canadiensis be a suitable substitute? I read the article about it on here, but it's not all that helpful as to whether or not they're alike. As for the question of it being poisonous - we never had the elder-berries (Sambuca Nigra)straight from the tree, only as juice or jam, and it never did any harm. Any enlightenment, suggestions or tips on where to find it will be appreciated. Thanks to all of you and have a great Gardening year!!!

Subject: RE: Sambucus Nigra
From: Susan
Zone: 6a
Date: 05-Jan-02 10:08 PM EST

I wonder if you're referring to the article I wrote in 2000 about deciding what to do with the Sambucus canadensis I had planted? Sambucus nigra is available here and can be used interchangeably with American Elder. Both contain the toxic chemicals sambunigrin and S.nigra also contains the toxic chemical vicianin. These chemicals are hydrocyanic acid precursors and digestion can result in creation of cyanide, which is where the poisonous effects come from. Both the toxic chemicals are destroyed by heat which is why elderberries or juice that has been heat treated (i.e. cooked) are safe while raw fruit is not. The chemicals are also present in leaves, stems and roots and children have been poisoned by using whistles made from the hollow stems of either type of elder. If you're making juice or wine, make sure you heat the juice thoroughly before ingesting it. Agriculture Canada has information on the poisonous nature of S. nigra at:

and now lists S. canadensis as a subspecies of S. nigra.

Subject: RE: Sambucus Nigra
From: Marg
Zone: 5b
Date: 06-Jan-02 01:37 PM EST

I was planning on getting that plant to! It's a beautiful plant. Humber nurseries in Brampton carries it. The Sambucus nigra 'Purpurea' is hardy to Z4 and grows to 3 meters. They are on line at Hope this helps. marg

Subject: RE: Sambucus Nigra
From: Ed`
Zone: 5
Date: 06-Jan-02 03:03 PM EST

It's also listed by Sheridans, Georgetown, Ont. The wild Sambucus, probably Canadensis, is widely distributed throughout S. Ont., courtesy birds, which seem to be immune to their alleged toxicity. In our family, pre-WW2, it was the berry fruit of choice for pie-a-la-mode. Having recenly discovered a roadside source in E. Ont., and sharing some with a friend, she was ecstatic at the opportunity of introducing to her grandchilren the delightful taste of freshly home-baked elderberry pie.

Subject: RE: Sambucus Nigra
From: Susan
Zone: 6a
Date: 06-Jan-02 05:40 PM EST

Kirsten, Marg, Ed - all your comments reflect the dilemma I had in 2000 when I first planted my elders. I planted them because the flowers were beautiful and I wanted berries for the birds and for pies etc. Then someone have me a book that made passing reference to toxic properties of elders and I decided I needed to investigate further as the plants were easily accessible by my neighbor's young children and I didn't want to risk them getting sick by eating something I had planted. What I found was that elder has many faces. The same properties that can cause poisoning are also exploited in herbal medicine to do good. Dose is obviously an issue and the same dose that can benefit an adult may make a child severely ill or even be fatal. Cooking renders the toxins harmless, so pies, jams and jellies are not a problem. In the end, I decided to keep the elders but moved them to a diferent location so that they are only accessible by someone in the middle of the backyard,thus taking them out of casual reach by neighborhood children. However, my next-door-neighbor builds a skating rink in the backyard each winter for their son (now 6 years old); the birds eat the berries in the winter and deposit seeds and pulp all over the rink! Poor Ryan curses my elders in the winter... (I've seen him out there shaking his small fists at the birds and yelling 'bad' words...:)

Subject: RE: Sambucus Nigra
From: Kirsten
Zone: 4a
Date: 06-Jan-02 09:13 PM EST

Thanks to all of you for your replies. To be honest I didn't know about the complicated chemistry of the plants and the possible harm until I started reading about it on here. I only remembered going out in summer with my grandpa to gather the berries for my mom to make the juice and jam. I think I will still get one or two, but make sure to look for an out-of-the-way location. And thanks again to all of you!

Subject: RE: Sambucus Nigra
From: Alex
Zone: 3a
Date: 06-Jan-02 09:18 PM EST

I don't know. Maybe I'm missing something. My neighbour - new to gardening - recently commented on how poisionous so many plants are that people have in the garden. She was busy researching what would be safe. Well, do most people, including children (we don't have any -we do have dogs) go chomping around the yard? "Say, have a munch on the rose roots or suck on a mountain ash." I kind of assume that if it isn't specifically grown for food then it should be investigated before ingesting. I don't eat the furniture in the house either. My dogs do go on munching/scavenger rampages though. They seem to be pretty selective - no awful event as yet. Do animals and birds know instinctively what plants they should avoid (except when they are full of the rubbishy-chemicals that people infuse vegetation with)?

Subject: RE: Sambucus Nigra
From: Kirsten
Zone: 4a
Date: 06-Jan-02 09:46 PM EST

Hi, Alex, I can understand your puzzlement, and actually the picture you were drawing made me smile, I like my lilacs e.g. but I don't eat them, roses, however, can be ingested as can some other flowers, but that's for a different discussion. But seriously, knowing what you grow in your garden is kind of helpful. I have three kids, the youngest being 3 1/2, and trust me, a fresh red berry in a comfortable heighth for her to reach is extremly tempting. Hopefully adults don't do that, but for young children it is a long process to learn that the red berries of a currant bush are okay to eat, but the red ones of some other bush are not. And trust me, they are fast at picking one just to try, it can be a scary experience for parents. But if you know that a beautiful flower you have will grow a toxic berry, as a parent you might reconsider plantig it, maybe until the kids are a bit older. As I mentioned above, I will plant my elders most likely, but out of the way (out of sight, out of temptation's reach), and I'm teaching my children about plants and that they can only eat what is grown in the veggie plot for that purpose, whereas the rest is for the birds. As for our beloved pets (I have two dogs, two cats)in this particular sense, I think they're a lot smarter than human beings :-)

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