The American elderberry (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis) is a large shrub or small tree native to Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Wild stands are found growing from Florida to Quebec and west to the Rocky Mountains. Elderberries produce attractive white flowers in cymes followed by large clusters of small fruit. While elderberries are not normally eaten fresh due to their tartness and reported toxic effects, wild and cultivated elderberries can be processed, either alone or with other fruit.
Most commercially grown elderberries are sold to processors for wines, juices, jellies, jams, syrups, and baked goods. Both the fruit and flowers are used in winemaking. Additionally, there is increasing popularity and market demand for elderberries in the health supplement and tonic industry. With the lack of processing facilities for elderberries and similar fruits in the southeast, many small-scale elderberry producers market direct to consumers through on-farm stands, you-pick operations, and farmers markets. Producers interested in wholesale market channels should arrange for a market contract prior to crop establishment. Commercial elderberry production and market development efforts in the United States are currently focused in Missouri and in northern states. Efforts in Missouri are complemented by production research (variety trials, pest management and other production research, market research and economic analysis) by the University of Missouri and Missouri State University. The Minnesota-based Midwest Elderberry Cooperative coordinates production and sourcing of elderberries from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin. Producers throughout the mid-south, south central and southeastern regions of the U.S. may find applicable industry development models and support from these efforts as the supply and demand for elderberries increases.
Elderberry varieties differ in earliness, yield, hardiness, plant vigor and disease susceptibility. Berry flavor, as well as cluster and berry size, can also vary between cultivars. Fruit color may be red to bluish-black to dark purple. Many of the improved cultivars currently available were developed in New York or Nova Scotia between the 1920s and 1960s. Growers should select only adapted varieties that have the qualities in demand for the intended market.