Is the American Elderberry poisonous?

Is the American Elderberry poisonous?

Our extracts, syrups, and jams are made with American elderberries harvested at peak season and crafted for the highest natural potency possible. It’s not yet a common ingredient in elderberry supplements; so as you can imagine, we often get questions about our farm-fresh, minimally processed elderberries. We’re here to keep you in the loop about all the latest scientific findings. 

The short answer: The American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is a close relative of the European Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), with the same health benefits and potential for immune support. And in the most recent studies, experts found that the American elderberry is not poisonous. Read on for the full story. 

Emergence of the American Elderberry

American elderberry is a rapidly growing specialty crop in the United States [1]. Native to eastern and midwestern North America, American elderberry is increasingly cultivated for its fruits and flowers that are used in a variety of foods, jellies, simple syrups, wines, and dietary supplements, like gummies, capsules and other products [2]. 

Elderberry is known for its nutritional and medicinal health benefits [3,4,5], both traditionally and increasingly within the scientific community. The fruit is rich in carbohydrates, fatty acids, organic acids, minerals, vitamins (A, B6 and C), essential oils, and is high in fiber [6,7], making it a great addition to your healthy lifestyle. 

The Health Benefits of Elderberry

Researchers have linked elderberry products to anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-carcinogenic, anti-viral, anti-influenza, and antibacterial activities [3,8,9,10,11,12,13]. It’s potential as a natural immune support supplement is part of the reason why Norm’s is in the business of elderberry!  

Less research has been conducted on the American Elderberry than its close relative, the European Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) because farms in Europe have been around for generations; however, both species are excellent sources of flavonoids, polyphenols and anthocyanins [3,8,9,14,15], i.e. the good stuff that helps support your body’s natural immune function.   

Are American Elderberries Toxic?

The elderberry industry has increased significantly between 2011 and 2019 [16], and is poised for continued expansion. However, its popularity may be hampered due to the uncertainty surrounding the presence of cyanogenic glycosides (CNGs) and/or their alleged toxicity. It’s a question we get all the time as elderberry farmers, “are elderberries poisonous?” To which the answer has always been: no, properly processed elderberry is not poisonous and is safe to incorporate regularly into your healthy lifestyle.   

In fact, the latest findings conducted by experts at the University of Missouri, Truman State University, and the Southwest Research Center showed no quantifiable trace of CNGs in commercial American Elderberry juice. They found that cyanogenic potential was highest in the stems and green berries, but concentration levels in all tissues were generally low and at a level that poses no threat to consumers of fresh and processed American Elderberry products. (Want to dive in? Read the full study here.) 

The American Elderberry is a promising, emerging North American crop. It’s potential as a dietary supplement is exciting, and as we learn more about this plant species, we’ll be sure to keep y’all in the loop. If you’re ready to start your own elderberry journey, you can purchase American elderberry cuttings and plants from Norm’s Farms every October through March. Sign up for our newsletter to get your pre-order notification every year. Be well!  

Other References

  1. Byers, P.L.; Thomas, A.L.; Cernusca, M.M.; Godsey, L.D.; Gold, M.A. Growing and Marketing Elderberries; in Missouri. Agroforestry in Action Pub, AF1016; Univ. Missouri Center for Agroforestry: Columbia, MO, USA, 2014. [Google Scholar]
  2. Thomas, A.L.; Byers, P.L.; Avery, J.D., Jr.; Kaps, M.; Gu, S. Horticultural Performance of Eight American Elderberry Genotypes at Three Missouri Locations. Acta Hortic. 2015, 1061, 237–244. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  3. Lee, J.; Finn, C.E. Anthocyanins and other polyphenolics in American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and European elderberry (S. nigra) cultivars. J. Sci. Food Agric. 2007, 87, 2665–2675. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  4. Moerman, D.E. Native American Ethnobotany; Timber Press: Portland, OR, USA, 2002. [Google Scholar]
  5. Thomas, A.L.; Byers, P.L.; Vincent, P.L.; Applequist, W.L. Medicinal Attributes of American Elderberry. In Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of North America; Máthé, Á., Ed.; Springer International Publishing: Cham, Switzerland, 2020; pp. 119–139. [Google Scholar]
  6. Elderberry: Plant Profile. Available online: (accessed on 22 December 2020).
  7. Młynarczyk, K.; Walkowiak-Tomczak, D.; Łysiak, G.P. Bioactive properties of Sambucus nigra L. as a functional ingredient for food and pharmaceutical industry. J. Funct. Foods 2018, 40, 377–390. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  8. Barak, V.; Birkenfeld, S.; Halperin, T.; Kalickman, I. The effect of herbal remedies on the production of human inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Isr. Med. Assoc. J. 2002, 4, 919–922. [Google Scholar]
  9. Roschek, B., Jr.; Fink, R.C.; McMichael, M.D.; Li, D.; Alberte, R.S. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry 2009, 70, 1255–1261. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  10. Uncini Manganelli, R.E.; Zaccaro, L.; Tomei, P.E. Antiviral activity in vitro of Urtica dioica L., Parietaria diffusa M. et K. and Sambucus nigra L. J. Ethnopharmacol. 2005, 98, 323–327. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  11. Wu, H.; Johnson, M.C.; Lu, C.H.; Fritsche, K.L.; Thomas, A.L.; Cai, Z.; Greenlief, C.M. Determination of Anthocyanins and Total Polyphenols in a Variety of Elderberry Juices by UPLC-MS/MS and Other Methods. Acta Hortic. 2015, 1061, 43–51. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  12. Mohammadsadeghi, S.; Malekpour, A.; Zahedi, S.; Eskandari, F. The Antimicrobial Activity of Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) Extract Against Gram Positive Bacteria, Gram Negative Bacteria and Yeast. Res. J. Appl. Sci. 2013, 8, 240–243. [Google Scholar]
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  14. Werlein, H.D.; Kütemeyer, C.; Schatton, G.; Hubbermann, E.M.; Schwarz, K. Influence of elderberry and blackcurrant concentrates on the growth of microorganisms. Food Control 2005, 16, 729–733. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  15. Mohebalian, P.M.; Aguilar, F.X.; Cernusca, M.M. Conjoint Analysis of U.S. Consumers’ Preference for Elderberry Jelly and Juice Products. HortScience 2013, 48, 338–346. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  16. Smith, T.; May, G.; Eckl, V.; Reynolds, C.M. US Sales of Herbal Supplements Increase by 8.6% in 2019. HerbalGram 2020, 127, 54–69. [Google Scholar]
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