Although my Blue Elderberries survived winter on the cold and windy northeast corner, the one farthest out has not sprouted any spring growth. Still alive, but it may be too stressed to get through a hot summer.
I know, I say I don’t save plants, but I did not water it, I moved it to what I hope is a more congenial location. I felt guilty about putting it in that bad spot, anyway… just because I want a windbreak.
The hill above my potager, before you get to the garden fence, has a sweet spot that grows a good patch of weeds… ah ha… water. It gets good morning sun, wind protection, and the soil gets well mulched and enriched by Pinyon pine needles (free to me). I thought long and hard about it because I wanted a pretty little Japanese Maple there. Four years later I guess I finally gave that up.
I got out at 7 this morning, hauling buckets of gravel for my pathways, and could see both the weed patch and several decorative Deer Grass clumps starting to green up. I will leave the Deer Grass, but while I had the thought, went up to weed that sweet spot. Dug a hole, and the soil was moist. Looked up and saw blue sky between the Pinyons.
All that was left to do was rescue that struggling Elderberry and plant it in its new home above raised bed 6.
The photo above shows the morning sun this spot gets for two hours, dappled sun the rest of the day. The weed patch is just greening up but gets 30 inches tall on that spot. It also shows what passes for “flat” on my hill.
By the time I weeded it, dug the planting hole, and dug the Elderberry up and replanted it with deadwood underneath, and compost… it is only getting dappled sun. Straight above is Deergrass, small still, it will look beautiful against the Blue Elderberry. At the top left is raised bed 6, at top right is a partially underground shed.
I am pleased with the move, and I believe the Blue Elderberry will fair well here. I may try a Wolfberry on that harsh northwest corner.
Blue Elderberry has flashy large flower clusters that smell like spiced honey. They attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Elderflower wine is a delicacy, but the flowers make good tea, syrup, and jelly. Collect the flowers, remove the stems, wash in cool water (bug removal), and cover with hot water (not boiling). Steep at least 10 minutes, strain and drink. This is a nervine and relaxes and calms without sedation. Nice right before bed after a hard day at the office. Dried flowers work all winter long. Use this liquid for syrup or jelly making.
Elderflowers are used in many floral perfumes, which I find too cloying on my skin, but might be a nice floral note in an herbal (green) perfume. I will make a little essential oil at some point, but might prefer the more delicate scent of infused oil and hydrosols. Both are used medicinally and infused oil is a nice anti-inflammatory. The hydrosol can be used much like rosewater for a delicate ladylike cooling spritz when delicate ones like me get overwarm outside. 😉
The fully ripe berries can be eaten raw but are in their glory as a “tonic” also known as Elderberry Wine. It will cure what ails you or make you not care or both. Dried Blue Elderberries can be added to tea or tinctured in 80+ proof alcohol for another tonic. Jelly, syrup, juice, it’s all good.
Beyond teasing, there are many medicinal uses for Blue Elderberry, but this is a toxic plant and must be used with care. Cooking fixes that, so I’ll stick with jellies, syrups, summer cold tea, winter hot teas, spritzers, and tonics. Plenty of nutritional benefits for me.
Eventually, I will have enough Blue Elderberry bushes to add its leaves to my beds as mulch, which I found highly effective in Texas as an insect and rodent repellant. Wear gloves.
I consider Blue Elderberry an excellent chicken plant. It provides shade in their run and they eat the berries. I gives them some protection from hawks, too. If they fly, they will roost in its branches. Birds in general like Blue Elderberries for roosting and food.
I will get a few flowers and berries this year, more as they mature. Blue Elderberries tend to root first, then grow quickly. They are native to the drier west and were once considered a separate species from Black Elderberry. Now it is considered the same, but it is obviously diverging. The Blue Elderberry has 3 or 4 subspecies in different habitats. Give them time, they will move farther from S. nigra and become separate. They have thicker leaves and a waxy blue bloom on the berries. Max height for Blue Elderberry is 30 feet… as big as my pinyons. Unlikely here because it dies back in the cold. Still, this winter they did not die back, maybe the 40 inches of snow during the coldest part of winter kept the stems alive. My guess is 6 to 15 feet.
While working I picked up more Treemoss for my drying bag (aka paper lunch sack). Now that I have a use for it, I am “seeing” lichen more. I am amazed at how selective human vision is and how much our brains dismiss as unimportant in the moment. No wonder we get bit by snakes in the woods… our handy pea brain filters them out! Doesn’t hurt to utilize lizard brain in the woods.
I worked outside from 7-11 without breakfast. I put out plenty of gravel and am glad I moved the Blue Elderberry to a new location. At last, lunch is ready in the oven! You can imagine why I planted so many Blue Elderberries and why I will take cuttings for more.