tasteless elderberries ...?!!

vieja_gw(z7NM)March 29, 2014

I planted a 'York' & an 'Adams' elderberries three years ago. Last year the first berries were completely tasteless!! Is my memory of them back in Iowa flawed? I remembered the good elderbery pies my grandmother used to make & looked forward to growing some here also (zone 7, mile high, high desert area Albuquerque, NM). The bushes are so vigorous & healthy & loads of clusters of fruit last year ... but no flavor at all here; should I just give up growing them in this area?!

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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

You are not supposed to harvest the first berries, guess you discovered why!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 3:26PM
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alexander3_gw(6 Pennsylvania)

I have 'Adams' and 'Johns', and I find the berries to be very bland raw, but they taste very good when made into syrup or jelly. Did you ever taste them raw in Iowa, or only in pie/cooked?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 3:44PM
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fabaceae_native

Most elderberries are not very pleasant to eat raw...

But you really should try growing the NM native Mexican elder (Sambucus mexicana). It is not only the most beautiful elder, with it's large size and gnarled look, but it is drought and heat tolerant, blooms throughout the growing season, and sets the tastiest blue elderberries I've ever tried. Only problem seems to be pollination (you obviously need two separate individuals growing near one another that bloom simultaneously). Berry set can be substantial, but only with a good location and plenty of water.

I also just ordered a blue elder (Sambucus caerulea) from the Pacific Northwest that appears to be very similar to the Mexican elder just with slightly different foliage, more cold hardy, and supposedly self-fertile! We'll see!!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 6:12PM
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vieja_gw(z7NM)

fabaceae: I shall look up the NM Mexican elder ... living in New Mexico I am amazed that I have not heard of it that I know of! Is it a bush.. or tree? I shall look it up!
alexander: as kids, we ate them raw right off the bush & as I remember them they were kinda tart ... but I liked them best in grandma's pies! Hopefully this second year of fruit may be better. Now I am a bit concerned as I see new shoots coming up aways from the main plants ... can it become invasive? Sure took to our New Mexico soil & climate the first year & ow the third year are over 6-7 ft. tall!

Thanks for all of your ideas... I DO want these to be successful!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 10:33PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Yeah don't give up. I don't have the cultivars you mention, but mine did taste rather poor the first year, and you are supposed to leave them alone the first year they fruit. Mine got a lot better! I never eat them raw myself. Only cooked.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 1:28AM
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fabaceae_native

Mexican elder can both either a tree or a shrub. In my zone 6 yard it is the latter, since every few years it is killed back to the ground, but then re-sprouts with a vengeance each time.

In zone 7 and warmer it is a fast-growing, small and picturesque tree, widely planted in Abq, Alamogordo, and Las Cruces, for example. It is deciduous in extreme heat as well as cold, staying nice and green in spring and fall in those southern locations.

Re: invasiveness... most elders (though not Mexican) sprout from runners and spread that way, but could never become really invasiveness in arid climates.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 3:22PM
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vieja_gw(z7NM)

The third year now after planting, I see shoots coming up in several areas away from the main... from the roots I guess! Will have to make sure I don't have some invasive bushes now! Anxious now to taste the (cooked!) berries from the second years fruit! Is it difficult to tell the poisonous ones from the safe? I know what I have were bought from a nursery (York. Adam) so assume safe.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 6:26PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

"Is it difficult to tell the poisonous ones from the safe? "

No since they are all poisonous. The roots are very bad. But the leaves and stems are fairly poisonous too, they won't kill you, but you could be hospitalized. The berries also have poison, but in low doses. Easily removed if cooked. This goes for all elderberries. The red ones are said to be worse, but they are not.

From Wiki:
The ripe, cooked berries (pulp and skin) of most species of Sambucus are edible.[13][14] However, most uncooked berries and other parts of plants from this genus are poisonous. Sambucus nigra is the only variety considered to be non-toxic, but it is still recommended that its berries be cooked slightly for culinary purposes.[13] The leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots of Sambucus plants can contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside (a glycoside which gives rise to cyanide as the metabolism processes it). Ingesting a sufficient quantity of cyanide-inducing glycosides can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body.
In 1984, a group of twenty-five people were sickened, apparently by elderberry juice pressed from fresh, uncooked Sambucus mexicana berries, leaves and stems. However, all twenty-five recovered quickly, including one individual who was hospitalized after drinking five glasses.[15] Such reported incidents are rare

This post was edited by Drew51 on Sun, Mar 30, 14 at 23:13

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 11:02PM
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fabaceae_native

I think there is some truth to the common belief that the black and blue colored berries have lower levels of toxin than the red ones. After all, the red berries are much less palatable, and cyanide-inducing glycosides in other plants (in apricot pits for example) often have telltale bitterness to them. I very much doubt that 5 glasses of a fresh red elderberry juice would be as benign as the Mexican elderberry juice in the incident reported above...

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 12:29AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Yeah, I guess I'll take your word for it!! I have a yellow fruiting elderberry, it's new so no berries yet...I think it's a Nigra, so should be fine! I have heard that the red is not toxic, just is not good. In the references I looked at, the only mention of toxin was in the blue, no mention about the red. I think elderberries are awesome plants. I have a problem at my cottage with too much shade. So I have been looking at variegated plant species, and two are elderberries. the coolest one is just hanging on, but the other one seems to be thriving. I know of two variegated types, awesome looking, both of them. But one is almost completely white, it is very cool! Now, if I can make it grow!!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 1:07AM
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