'The Russians believe that Elder-trees drive away evil spirits, and the Bohemians go to it with a spell to take away fever. The Sicilians think that sticks of its wood will kill serpents and drive away robbers, and the Serbs introduce a stick of Elder into their wedding ceremonies to bring good luck. In England it was thought that the Elder was never struck by lightning, and a twig of it tied into three or four knots and carried in the pocket was a charm against rheumatism. A cross made of Elder and fastened to cow houses and stables was supposed to keep all evil from the animals.' 

~Lady Rosalind Northcote, The Book of Herbs 1903~

We have been interested in adding elderberry plants to our homestead for some time. When we found out some good friends of ours were ordering a number of plants we jumped at the opportunity to be included.

They are a very hardy plant that can easily be grown up to zone 4. Some varieties can survive in zone 3. When planting your elderberry remember that healthy soil equals healthy plants. It is also very important to keep in mind that these bushes have very shallow root systems measuring little more than two inches deep so be very careful once they are established not to damage the delicate root system when weeding around your plants. In fact, it would be worth your time to hand weed rather than use any tool and potentially damage your plants growth.

Another aspect of elderberry propagation worth remembering is that they need two varieties in order to successfully pollinate and produce berries.

When your plants are three years old you will want to prune their growth by removing any dead or broken canes from the existing bush.

Elderberries are an astringent and can be mildly toxic if not fully mature or prepared properly. You do not want to use the leaves, bark or twigs of the plant. It is also recommended that you do not give the syrup to children under two years of age. With that said it is worth remembering this plant has been a valuable asset to the human race since prehistoric times and when fully mature and prepared properly they are a wonderful medicinal plant that can produce syrup, wine, jams and pies. They are a valuable source of potassium and phosphorus and are also very high in the anti-oxidant vitamin C. If nothing else they make a wonderful hedgerow and drive away robbers, wink wink.

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead. Last, but certainly not least, you can also find his work at Tobias Alan Whitaker


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