Red elderberry can be either a small tree or a shrub. We have some that are almost twenty feet tall, though most average around eight to ten feet.
The flowers are creamy white and don’t smell very pleasant, along with the rest of the plant. The berry is bright red and not palatable when raw. The stems are pithy and soft. Grows at low-elevation from southern Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland to California.
The fruit was an important food source for the native people of the central and northern coast. The fruit must always be boiled or it can cause nausea. The bark, stems, leaves and roots, especially in fresh plants are toxic. The berries, when cooked make a good jam. They can also be used to make wine. I haven’t tried to make jam with them yet, but might give it a try this year.
I bought some Blue elderberry plants from the Skagit County Conservation District this spring (2009). I planted them around the two front wetlands. I think they all survived. They are not native to the west side of the Cascade’s, but I know they make a good jam. My Aunt Alpha always made it. Won’t get any fruit this year, but maybe next year.