American elderberries are blooming in Columbia this week. Elderberries are sprawling, deciduous shrubs that grow to a height of 10 feet or more; they are common in wild areas and are often planted along borders and fencelines. Found in subtropical and temperate zones, more than 30 species grace our planet; 8 of these can be found in North America.
The American elderberry is the common species of the central and eastern U.S. Its small, white flowers, grouped in flat umbrels, bloom in late spring and yield blue-black berries by late summer. These nutritious berries, high in Vitamins A and C, are consumed by a wide variety of wildlife, including songbirds, quail, grouse, wild turkeys, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, field mice and deer. Among the berry-loving songbirds are cardinals, gray catbirds, cedar waxwings, robins, northern orioles, mockingbirds and brown thrashers.
Humans also cherish this fruit, using the berries for pies, jams, syrups and wines. In addition, elderberries have been used for medicinal purposes since the days of Ancient Egypt; the flowers are said to yield a soothing tea, useful in treating the common cold. On the other hand, the leaves and roots of this shrub are toxic to humans and should not be consumed.