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Sambucus canadensis

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Sambucus canadensis
Foliage and fruit

Secure  (NatureServe)[1]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Dipsacales
Family: Adoxaceae
Genus: Sambucus
S. canadensis
Binomial name
Sambucus canadensis
Natural range of Sambucus canadensis in the United States and Canada

Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis (L.) Bolli
Sambucus mexicana C. Presl ex DC [2]

Sambucus canadensis, the American black elderberry, Canada elderberry, or common elderberry, is a species of elderberry native to a large area of North America east of the Rocky Mountains, south to Bolivia.[4][3] It grows in a variety of conditions including both wet and dry soils, primarily in sunny locations.


It is a deciduous suckering shrub growing to 6 metres (20 feet) tall.[5] The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, pinnate with five to nine leaflets, the leaflets around 10 centimetres (4 inches) long and 5 cm broad. In summer, it bears large (20–30 cm or 8–12 in diameter) corymbs of white flowers above the foliage, the individual flowers 5–6 millimetres (31614 in) diameter, with five petals.

The fruit (known as an elderberry) is a dark purple to black berry 3–5 mm diameter, produced in drooping clusters in the fall.


It is closely related to the European Sambucus nigra. Some authors treat it as conspecific, under the name Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis.[6]


Inedible parts of the plant, such as the leaves, stems, roots, seeds and unripe fruits, can be toxic at lethal doses[7][8] due to the presence of cyanogenic glycosides and alkaloids.[9] Traditional methods of consuming elderberry includes jams, jellies, and syrups, all of which cook down the fruit and strain out the seeds.

Unpublished research may show that S. canadensis (American elderberry) has lower cyanide levels than apple juice, and that its fruit does not contain enough beta-glucosidase (which convert glucosides into cyanide) to create cyanide within that biochemical pathway.[10] For comparisons, assuming S. nigra has levels of no more than 25 micrograms of cyanogenic glycosides/milligram of berry weight,[11] assuming all of the glycosides were converted to cyanide, and assuming a toxicity of 50 mg for a 50 kg vertebrate,[12] one would need to eat 2 kilograms (~4.4 pounds) of berries in one sitting to reach the lower limits of lethal toxicity (1 mg cyanide/kg of weight). For the upper limits (3 mg/kg), one would need to eat 6 kg or ~13 pounds.


The flower called elderflower is edible, as are the ripe berries, although cooking may be preferred to inhibit intake of glycosides, which are associated with potential toxicity.[5][13] A drink can be made from soaking the flower heads in water for eight hours.[5] Other uses for the fruit include wine, jelly and dye. The leaves and inner bark can be used as an insecticide and a dye.[13]

The genus name comes from the Greek word sambuce, an ancient wind instrument, in reference to the removal of pith from the twigs of this and other species to make whistles.[14][15]

The boiled inner bark of the elderberry was used by the Iroquois of North America as a pain reliever in toothaches, being applied to the side of the cheek that was most virulent.[16]


  1. ^ "NatureServe Explorer 2.0 - Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis, Common Elderberry". explorer.natureserve.org. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  2. ^ "Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis (L.) R. Bolli". ITIS Report. ITIS. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Sambucus canadensis". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  4. ^ "Sambucus canadensis L." Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  5. ^ a b c The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants. United States Department of the Army. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2009. p. 53. ISBN 978-1-60239-692-0. OCLC 277203364.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ "Sambucus nigra". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  7. ^ Peterson, Lee Allen (1977). Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 172. ISBN 0-395-92622-X.
  8. ^ Preston, Richard J.; Braham, Richard R. (2002). North American Trees: Fifth Edition. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State Press. p. 199. ISBN 0-8138-1526-6.
  9. ^ "Sambucus canadensis". North Carolina State Extension.
  10. ^ "The Essential Herbal Blog: Elderberry - New Research". 15 March 2020.
  11. ^ "Fig. 7 Concentration (µg mg −1 FW) of CNGLCS. Sambunigrin (A) and".
  12. ^ Oke OL. 1969. The role of hydrocyanic acid in nutrition. World Rev. Nutr. Diet. 11:170–98
  13. ^ a b "Sambucus canadensis". Plants for a Future.
  14. ^ Niering, William A.; Olmstead, Nancy C. (1985) [1979]. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, Eastern Region. Knopf. p. 448. ISBN 0-394-50432-1.
  15. ^ Little, Elbert L. (1980). The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region. New York: Knopf. p. 670. ISBN 0-394-50760-6.
  16. ^ Kalm, Pehr (1772). Travels into North America: containing its natural history, and a circumstantial account of its plantations and agriculture in general, with the civil, ecclesiastical and commercial state of the country, the manners of the inhabitants, and several curious and important remarks on various subjects. Translated by Johann Reinhold Forster. London: T. Lowndes. p. 338. ISBN 9780665515002. OCLC 1083889360.