American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is a species of elderberry native to a large area of North America east of the Rocky Mountains, and south through eastern Mexico and Central America to Panama. 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 3 m or more tall. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, pinnate with five to nine leaflets, the leaflets around 10 cm long and 5 cm broad.
In summer, it bears large (20-30 cm diameter) corymbs of white flowers above the foliage, the individual flowers 5-6 mm diameter, with five petals.
The fruit is a dark purple to black berry 3-5 mm diameter, produced in drooping clusters in the fall. The berries are edible, but other parts of the plant are poisonous, containing toxic calcium oxalate crystals.
It is closely related to the European Sambucus nigra, and some authors treat it as conspecific, under the name Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis.
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Berries - raw or cooked. A bittersweet flavor, the fruits are about 5mm in diameter and are borne in large clusters. They are at their best after being dried, whereas the fresh raw fruit has a rather rank taste. The fruit is normally cooked and used in pies, jams, jellies, sauces, bread etc.
Flowers - raw or cooked. They are often covered in batter and made into fritters. The flowers can be picked when unopened, pickled and then used as a flavouring in candies etc. They can also be soaked in water to make a drink. A pleasant tasting tea is made from the dried flowers.
Other than the berries and flowers, other parts of the plant are poisonous, containing toxic calcium oxalate crystals.
The leaves and inner bark of young shoots are used as an insect repellent. A decoction of the leaves can be used as an insecticide. It is prepared by boiling 3 - 4 handfuls of leaves in a litre of water, then straining and allowing to cool before applying. Effective against many insects, it also treats various fungal infections such as leaf rot and powdery mildew.
A black dye is obtained from the bark. When grown near a compost heap, the root activity of this plant encourages fermentation in the compost heap. The stems can be easily hollowed out to be used as drains in tapping the sap from trees such as the Sugar Maples (Acer spp). the stems can also be used as whistles and flutes.
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