Foraging for Elderberries in Preparation for Cold and Flu Season

Foraging for Elderberries in Guelph

A dear friend of mine recently came home with a bag full of freshly foraged elderberries. As someone who regularly suggests elderflower syrup for a cold or flu, I immediately cooked up a batch of syrup myself and then headed out on my own foraging adventure to gather these fall-time remedy berries. 



Benefits of Elderberries

Considered a tonic and blood builder, Elderberry syrups have a long history as a remedy for colds and sore throats and are well researched today for their antiviral properties, as well as their ability to activate a healthy immune system.



Elderberry shrub leaves

First of all, it’s very important to consult with someone who is familiar with the elderberry plant to be certain. There are many poisonous berries, and brewing up a toxic syrup may not be the smartest thing to do. In Guelph I found Elderberries of the Sambucus canadensis species, which typically grow by fences and at the edge of roads or walking paths in North America. Important to note is that some Sambucus species such as S. canadensis have berries that are toxic if consumed raw, due to its toxic constituent, sambunigrin, which is destroyed through heating. The remaining parts of the plant are also considered toxic, so avoid ingesting any part of the plant other than the flowers or the berries.

Elderberry shrubs often grow near fences, roads, or walking paths

S. canadensis is considered a deciduous shrub that grows to about 5-12 feet in height. The pinnate leaves grow in groups of five to nine and have notched edges. The flat-topped clusters of white-yellow small fragrant flowers bloom in June or July. Come late summer and fall these shrubs offer clusters of dark purple to black little berries that are usually ready to pick in September. Apparently elderberries are easy to identify if you are familiar with the plant, however there are similar plants with highly toxic berries that have been mistaken for elderberries in the past, such as pokeberries and water hemlock, so exercise extreme caution.


Using a fork to scrape off the berries

Use a fork to scrap the berries of from the stems. Elderberries can be prepared and consumed in a variety of ways. I chose to make an anti-viral syrup and froze the remaining berries for future use. The berries can be dried for tea, or added to any pie or crisp dish. Just please don’t eat the berries before they have been exposed to heat, as the raw berries are considered slightly toxic and can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.

Click here for my Elderflower flu-busting and immune-building syrup

Ready to freeze


Please note: All material and information contained on this website is for educational purposes only and foraging should never begin without the guidance and approval of a local plant specialist.



Godfrey, A, & Saunders, P (2010). Principles & Practices of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine Volume 1. Toronto, Ontario: CCNM Press.

Ontario Weeds: Pokeweed (2000). Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Pokeberries (2012). National Capital Poison Center.

Sambucus nigra canadensis (n.d.). In Evergreen Native Plant Database.

Sambucus canadensis (n.d.). In Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder.

Water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii) (2006). United States Department of Agriculture.

Wood, Mathew (2008). The Earthwise Herbal. Berkley, California: North Atlantic Books.