Blessings from the sun. It is warm today and a good day for skillsharing.
I hope that you will join in the discussion
Elderberry - Red and Blue
I grew up using the elderberry in several ways. My family made jam and jelly and later as an adult I made elderberry wine for contributions to late fall fermenting gatherings. We did not eat the berries fresh as I was told they were poisonous. In fact we used gloves to harvest the berries. The berries had to be cooked to take out the poisonous quality. I was told that they would not kill you only make you very sick. I knew that some people also used the blue or black elderberry in a fruit leather or survival food called pemmican. Pemmican is a combination of protein, fat and wild berries.
Native names: (reference: Erna Gunther (1))
Quinault - K'we'lap = bark of the elderberry
Skagit - tstkwik
Squaxin - t'sikwi'kwats = plant;
t'sikwik = berries
Red Elderberry - sambucus racemosa L.
Blue Elderberry - S. cerulean Raf.
Both are in the Huckleberry family (caorufkiuaceae)
This is bushy plant. The plant is found west of the Cascade Mountain Range throughout British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. The Red berried plant is much more easy to find that the blue or black berried plant. It is found in swampy lowlands and hilly uplands. I find it growing in several-year-old clearcuts. Birds love the berry on this plant and will often drop the seeds in their dung -helping to reseed it.
The tribes of Cascadia used both the blue and the red elderberry. The informants reported that it was much easier to find the red elderberry.
The Elderberry plant had many utility uses but was used only by master craftsmen as the plant can be poisonous (2):
- The Quinault removed the pith from the stem and inserted a plug, to make a whistle for calling Elk.
- The stem was also used for drinking straws blowguns and pipe stems
- HOWEVER, Turner (2) reports that the stems, roots and foliage of the Elderberry plant are poisonous and therefore their use for such items is not recommended.
According to Pojar and MacKinnon the berries must be cooked also. They may make you nauseated if you eat them raw.
"Red Elderberries though small and seedy, were highly important food for the peoples of the central and northern coast, although few people still use them today. They should always be cooked since the raw berries may cause nausea. They were sometimes boiled to make a sauce or cooked with the stems intact. The stems and seeds were discarded later. The berries make an excellent, tangy jelly, and some people make wine from them. But they should always be cooked for this purpose." (3)
Pojar and Mackinnon report that the stems, bark, leaves and roots, especially in fresh plants are toxic due to the presence of cyanide-producing glycosides.
Medicinal Uses: So here is the skinny. If you drink the fresh juice of the berries you will make you vomit and or have diarrhea. It is a purgative! The juice when very diluted has been used for scalds and burns. But you have to know your stuff with this plant. I do not use it for healing because it is not a plant I have much use for.
Pollinator attractor: This plant is highly attractive to as many as 50 different pollinators including bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. The birds are highly attracted to the berries. The berries often dry on the vine and are fed upon in the winter months by hungry birds. This is an essential plant to bring out of the forest and into your yard.
1. Ethnobotany of Western Washington - The Knowledge and use of indigenous plants by Native Americans. Erna Gunther. 1945 - Revised edition 1973. University of Washington Press
2. Plants in British Columbia Indian Technology by Nancy Turner. 1979- British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria, Canada
3. The Plants of the Pacific Northwest coast - Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska -Jim Pojar and Andy Mackinnon et al. 1994 - Lone Pine Publishing - Vancouver, British Columbia.
See you in the deep woods