» Poisonous Plants » Elderberry


Family: Caprifoliaceae

Scientific name: Sambucus spp.

Common name: Elderberry

Description: There are about six species of elderberry in the temperate zones of the Western United States and at least three species in the East. All are characterized by pithy stems; opposite, compound leaves; and red or blue to purple berries. The small, numerous flowers are white to cream in color and are arranged in flat-topped compound clusters. By mid-August the solitary pistils form the fruits. The fruits are relished by birds and other wildlife. All elderberries are members of the honeysuckle family. The species are difficult to delimit and botanists differ on identification.

Occurrence: These shrubs vary in height from 6 to 18 feet and grow mostly in forests and canyons and along bottomlands and clearings. They seldom grow in prairie areas.

Toxicity: Elderberries contain a poisonous alkaloid and cyanogenic glycoside in the roots, stems, leaves, and unripe berries. Children are sometimes sickened by using the stems as blow-guns. The ripe berries are edible and are used for wine, jelly, and pies.

Symptoms: The toxic compounds in elderberry cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

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