Elderberry vs. Pokeberry

an elderberry bush…this is about 10-12 feet tall.

notice the giant clusters of tiny berries as opposed to small long clusters of large berries

there seems to be a lot of confusion with the identification of poke vs. the identification of elderberry…i never imagined that they could be taken for each other but i can see how that could cause confusion so i want to clear this up right now! i’ve had several people contact me about in the past few days and i don’t want anyone else to confuse the two.

large clusters of very tiny, bb sized berries

elderberries are tiny. they grow in clusters instead of a long cylindrical cone if that makes sense…picture queen anne’s lace or yarrow with berries and that’s what elderberries looks like. pokeberries are about the size of peas with a dent in each berry. elderberries are about the size of a bb.

this is poke…notice the poke berries hang in a long thin cluster as opposed to elderberry’s umbrella-like clusters

also, the stems of elderberry are thin and woody with brown flecks on them. the only part of the elder bush that is red is the stems that the berries are on and some of the leaf stems. pokeberry plant stems are generally a purply red.

notice the bumpy fleck on the stems of elderberry. the stems are tree/bark like. pokeberry stems are fleshy, non-woody.

the leaves are different too. they look more like the leaves on a walnut tree, compound. the leaves on elderberry are opposite while the leaves on poke are simple and alternate.compound leaf (many ‘leaflets’ on a stem of a leaf) of elderberry

hard to see here (see below for a better picture) but stems of leaves are opposite on elderberry

stems of leaves are alternate on the pokeberry

as an aside, pokeberries are not as poisonous as people make them out to be…yes, if you ate a bunch of the berries and chewed the seeds in them really well, you would probably puke a lot and may have more serious side effects but they don’t taste very good and the taste alone would stop you. swallowing a few berries will do nothing more than put your body into high gear to clear out your system. as long as you don’t chew the seeds, it’s not going to do a whole lot to you other than maybe give you diarrhea. (but please, don’t try eating them nevertheless!)

having said that, poke is an excellent lymph mover. i’ve used it a lot in the past for swollen lymph nodes and for plugged ducts that cause mastitis. it is a low dose medicinal but a very valuable one!

poke on the left, elderberry on the right. notice elderberries leaves are opposite on the stem

poke makes a beautiful dye but sadly, it’s not color fast. it is fun to paint your hair with and washes out w/o staining. also, you can substitute it for ink in the elderberry ink recipe!! :)one final view side to side as they would hang on each plant. again, poke on the left, elderberry on the right

for one more look at elderberry, watch tina sams’ video on the essential herbal facebook fanpage.

i hope this helps to clear up any confusion! please let me know if i need to post more pictures!

69 Responses to “Elderberry vs. Pokeberry”

  1. 1

    This was super helpful to me! I’ve tried to look online at several different comparisons of elderberry and pokeberry without much success coming away with a true knowlegde. Thank you for this though. I am not confused any more!

  2. 2

    This was awesome and so helpful! Now I understand the difference

  3. 3

    Thank you so much for this article. I’ve had the same experience as Danielle. Now, I realize that I have seen both and I’m pretty sure now that I will know the difference at a glance.

  4. 4

    Good info! Thanks.

  5. 5
    Sharon Askew

    Your site was very helpful to me. I have looked on and off for 3 months for a comparison as I have a lot of ‘Poke” berries on my property, I am looking for Elderberries and thought that is what I had. Glad I found your site. Thank You

  6. 6
    Karla Hare

    I have both the elderberry and the poke berries in the woods, but I was not sure what the poke berries were. Now I know for sure what each are. Thank you for helping with the identification of each.

  7. 7
    Marlene Perry

    I had a pokeberry growing in my herb garden and didn’t know what it was. I did dig it out last summer because I had a feeling that I didn’t want it there. After looking at these pictures it is obvious what it was!

  8. 8

    Thank you for a clear comparision of Pokeberry and Elderberry plants. I am interested in locating Pokeberry plants so I might replicate a recipe a friend prepared for me many years ago.

  9. 9
    Donna Hardin

    Thank you for the wonderful pictures…I want to know more about herbs and find myself insecure with them. Now, you have confirmed that we do indeed have elderberries growing on our farm! NOW, I want to learn what I can do with them….thank you!

  10. 10

    Thank you so much for clearing the difference, i have a whole punch of polk in my backyard and have been trying to find answers if it was elderberries or what! lol thank again

  11. 11

    Super helpful!!!! Loved it, thanks!

  12. 12

    Thank you SO much! I moved into a house a couple years ago and left the purpleberried bushes that grew like weeds (and since this house was a nightmare with no landscaping I figured they probably WERE weeds! ). I chopped them back this year (left them at first thinking maybe birds liked them) and was wondering what to do this year. I was so worried I had ripped out and demolished food! haha, nope… POKE instead! 😀 this is the first site of the many I have searched to include a photos of BOTH and compare the clustering on each. THANK YOU! 😀

  13. 13
    Nancy Moores-Freeborn

    Wow ….Loved the information. Thank you <3

  14. 14

    I found your site by searching “plants that look like elderberry” because I am trying to figure out what kind of plant I have. I am hoping it is elderberry. I live in Southeast Texas and a bush has sprouted up in one of my flower containers recently. It looks like elderberry, but it is not a mature plant so I can not tell for sure. It is about 2-3 feet in heighth. You describe the elderberry as having bb size berries. Mine are a little larger… like twice the size of a bb. Also, the berries are in umbrella-like clusters; however, the clusters are small (like 6 or more berries). The leaves are a very odd clustering of leaves. The leaves on each cluster range in size from tiny (1/ inch) to larger leaves under 2 inches long. There is NO redness or purple on the stems. Now, I am thinking this is not elderberry, but I have no idea what it is. If you have any idea, please email me at littlethingstx@att.net . I do not want to cut this bush down if it is something good to have.

  15. 15

    I am so glad that I found your site. I grew up on a farm. Both plants grew in our fields or on the roadsides. We were told to leave the berries alone on either plant because they were poison. My mother gathered the leaves from what she called the poke plant and cooked them. She parboiled them first, to remove the bitter taste which was probably oxalic acid. She drained the water and then cooked in fresh water, like spinach. We never got sick from eating this “poke salad” food.
    It has been too many years since childhood and am now trying to identify the plants growing wild in the woods behind my house. Thank you for offering a great side-by-side description.

  16. 16

    Awsome info, now when I have my daughter with me on my treck through the woods I’ll finally be able to tell the difference between the two and pass that knowledge down to my daughter. Thanks for the article, it was very helpful.

  17. 17

    I have some wild shrubs in my back yard that are quite similar in description to the elderberry but the leaves are not serrated. They are quite smooth on the margin and remind me a bit of dogwood leaves. What kind of berry tree is this?

  18. 18

    I have no idea Nancy. Without seeing several good photographs or seeing it in person, it would be hard to say as it could be any number of plants.

  19. 19

    Well, would anyone like a giant Pokeberry bush? I have one by my back door and have to wrestle my way back into the house taking the dogs out. It is “robust”, to say the least, purple arms, and I think quite grotesque! I will have to take another picture of it. It is growing handsomely even in 100+F. weather of the last week, but I’m watering a lot because my flowers are also there. It is like Jack and the Beanstalk, covering my kitchen window now at a height of 12-15 feet! My dogs are not interested in it, and I supervise them outside. I feed the birds and provide birdbaths and water…haven’t seen any eating the berries yet, but maybe I’ll get a first-hand view from that kitchen window! Think I’ll dye my hair and become a Hippie! I thought it odd that a tulip right next to it never got anywhere. Probably not a good thing next to my foundation.

  20. 20
    Carl Belken

    Thank you so very much for pointing out the differences between poke and elderberry. All my life I have mistaken poke for elderberry. That is because my mom and dad did not know the difference and they were born, raised, and spent the majority of their lives in the country. When I was a kid I remember mom fussing at me for getting my clothes stained by what she called elderberry but was actually poke. She also told me the berries were poison. Telling us kids something was poison was an excellent way of keeping us away from it.

  21. 21

    I also looked at other sites and this site was fantastic at explaining and showing the differences between the two berries. I was raised in the country, but never paid much attention until I retired and had more time to start picking more berries to make jellies. A friend asked if we ever picked elderberries and I had no clue what they looked like. I knew there was some type of berry growing around where we picked raspberries and blackberries, but until I looked at your webpage had no clue that they were poke berries. Thank you for the excellent explanation and photos!

  22. 22

    I have these growing in my front yard garden an wasn’t sure what they were, now I know. I think theyre very pretty an since there close to my front porch give some much needed privacy as I have a little cluster of them. They get pretty tall an I have pulled several of them out since I had to many. I guess the birds dropped the seeds there. Is really nice to know I don’t just have some weed in my yard but that it actually has a name!

  23. 23

    THANK YOU! I thought some bushes that were growing in our back yard were elderberries, but turns out according to your pictures, they are pokeberries. I love the pretty red stalks!

  24. 24

    We found what I thought MIGHT be elderberries on our new property. Thankfully I checked here before making wine out of what is actually Pokeberries! Thank you for the info.

  25. 25
    Ethel Kelley

    OK I have poke Can I make Jam or what ?

  26. […] have a positive identification.  Elderberry is sometimes confused with water hemlock, inkberry, or pokeberry, but if you look closely, they plants are quite […]

  27. 27

    Good Morning! oh my goodness! my husband told me that the tree in our yard was Elderberry,I was searching for recipes to make use of all the fruit on the tree, found the perfect recipe, but something kept bothering me. I gathered some fruit and a couple of leaves fell in my colander. I decided to google for pictures, and your site came up! It was not an Elderberry but a Pokeberry bush. Thank YOU! we would surely have been quite uncomfortable if not very ill knowing how much we dish up fruit crisp desserts!

    I’m so thankful for your concise descriptions!
    bless you!!!

  28. 28


    Poke is a very low dose botanical. I would not suggest making jam with it. Save that for the elderberries. :)

  29. 29

    That was the best explanation with comparisson pictures that I could have every hoped for…thank you sooooo much and I will always look to your page for other ????able plants. (*:*)

  30. 30
    Nancy Nalian

    How do pokberry seeds get transmitted? I never had them in my yard before this summer. Once I saw the plant/weed growing, and not knowing what it was, we chose to let it grow. Did it get here via the wind, or bird droppings? Just curious.

  31. 31

    Hi Nancy,

    Birds tend to spread the Poke plants through their droppings, they love to eat the berries.

  32. 32

    This article was so helpful.now I am certain I have Elderberry.Elderberry jelly here we come…………Never saw so many elderberrys in North Carolina before this year…….

  33. 33

    Wow..Finally figured out what this plant was thanks to your website. It’s been growing on the edge of my property by the woods every year for the past 20 plus years and always mildly wondered what it was and if I ate one of the berrys would I keel over from it. Finally sat down and came across your site and now I know…Poke Berry. Thanks!!

  34. 34

    Thank you. We have Poke berries in our back yard… now I know.

  35. 35
    Laurie B

    Thank you for such an awesome article! This is exactly what I was looking for. I needed to know the difference so I wouldn’t gather the wrong berry :)

  36. 36
    Alan and Ann Alaia Woods

    much thanks; trying to distinguish between the two so we can use the pokeberry in marbling paper (with an acid addition to make it colorfast) so this is very helpful.

  37. 37

    this is one of the best descriptions I have ever seen. I like how it show the difference between the two plants. very informative and could save a life.

  38. 38
    Mary Jo

    Thanks. My hubby (who is good with this stuff told me it was Pokeberry) so I wanted to see what the Elderberry looked like so I would know for myself in the future. It has been 30 years since I picked Elderberry as a child. I was planning to get rid of the Pokeberry but thanks to your fine information I will keep some of it around.

  39. 39

    Are all elderberry leaves serrated? I just discovered to mature trees on our property and hope that we
    have the real deal. The leaves, however, have smooth edges.

  40. 40
    Randi Real

    I can see where pokeberries could be confused with chokecherries, but never elderberries! There is a huge difference.

  41. 41

    Thanks for this information. It took me a while to find a site that was really helpful. I guess I will be throwing out the batch of what I thought was elderberry syrup! Thanks for helping avert a puke fest at our house :)

  42. 42

    Do elderberries grow in KY? If so, where is the best place and what is the time of year to look?

  43. 43
    Frances Nugen

    My mother used to roll the stalk of a poke berry and fry them similar to fried chicken. We loved them.

  44. 44
    Frances Nugen

    My mother used to roll the stalk of a poke berry in flour and fry them similar to fried chicken. We loved them.

  45. 45

    My family has elderberries growing wild all over the family farm. We picked and froze 50 pounds in late summer. I am looking for a good elderberry syrup or elderberry elixir recipe.

  46. 46

    Well, now I know the mystery berry bush that has been growing alongside our garage…Poke! thank you for an excellent explanation and description!

  47. 47

    As children, we would take the pokeberries and mash them, strain them, and then soak sunflower leaves in the juice overnight. We’d hang the leaves in the garden and the flies would flock to the leaves, drink the juice, and die right there. It was fascinating. As kids, we were busy and we took care of the bug population. Even now, I love to see a pokeberry!!!

  48. 48

    Wonderful article! Thanks SO much! We have some pokeberry bushes growing on our property. The berries are just starting to form – they’re still green. I was hoping that they might be elderberry. You cleared that up, beautifully. Again, thanks! :)

  49. 49
    Doug llamas

    Thanks I thought I had elderberrys growin at my place along the road, I was going to pick them and give to someone to make jelly out of or something. Close call

  50. 50

    Thank you for this article! I’ve been keeping my eye out for elderberries, and saw pokeberries today, and excitedly cut a few bunches down. Had to do a bit of extensive googling to double-check (while elderberries didn’t look exactly like what I’d picked, I wanted to believe…), and found your page.

  51. 51

    Thank you for your very excellent lesson. After living here for over 7 years we have never had poke berry plants. I have a very tall one on the sunny side of our deck. Can it be trimmed, can it cause zkin sensitities and what would you recommend I do with it. It isnow about 8ft and growing o my deck. Thank you, Janet

  52. 52

    The best plant pictures that has ever been my experience to view.
    It is as if they were actual plants and not some obscure, generic picture
    of a plant of sorts – a very rare thing – thank you.

  53. 53

    Thanks for the very clear and informative article! When I was a kid, visiting Grandma and Grandpa on their farm in Indiana, I used the berries from a bush next to the house as filling for my mud pies. She about flipped out, said they were poisonous, but I always wondered about that and now I see she was right as they definitely were pokeberries not elderberries.

  54. 54

    How do you prepare your poke for swollen lymph nodes and for plugged ducts?

  55. 55

    I now believe my large overhanging plant to be a pokeberry. I thought it was poison sumac as last summer when working by the log pile (where the pokeberry plant grew) I broke out in a terrible rash all over my face. Took a prescription of prednisone and a topical cream to get rid of it. Can the pokeberry bush also cause such a rash?

  56. 56

    Sue, yes Poke can cause rashes for some people. I hope that doesn’t happen to you again!

  57. 57
    Alton Lathrop

    I see all these sites for the Poke Plant/bush/ect. I have been trying to find a site whereby I can buy a Poke Plant or bush to plant in my back yard…I cannot find one for sale. If there is one out there for sale, please let me know through my Email. altonlathrop@yahoo.com.
    Thank you

  58. 58
    Ralph Wood

    As far as I know there isn’t anyone who sells the plant because it is a weed. I have tried many times to get the seeds to germinate, but no success there either. The seed is a favorite food of Dove. My property in central Georgia had over 100 acres of pokeberry in 2004 & 2005 that were planted naturally by dove. In 2003 the land was cleared of all trees and brush then and burned down to the bare ground. Dove flew over the land pooping out the seeds they had eaten and the seeds grew. I am not a professional and I have no expertise in plants or animals, but as many times & ways that I have tried to get pokeberry to grow from seed, I have come to the conclusion that pokeberry seeds must go through the digestive system of a bird before they become fertile.

  59. 59

    Ralph – it is quite possible you are correct. I believe the term is scarify. There are many plants that have a super tough seed shell that must be “broken” (or damaged by something) before the sprout can break through. There are many plants that have seeds that won’t sprout without a trip through an animal”s digestive track which serves to weaken the seed coat with digestive acids and enzymes.. If I am not mistaken, the purpose of this is for survival. Better that the couple hundred seeds sprout somewhere else, and don’t choke out the mama plant.

  60. 60

    These have been growing in our yard for many years now. I’ve always pulled them out, not knowing what they were. Today while feeding I noticed a large area behind some of our landscaped yard with this plant, fruit ripe. I picked one berry, squished it between my fingers and tasted it. It was sweet, but I wanted to know exactly what it was before I picked more. I know know, it’s sad something so l Iovely,and sweet is poisonous to us. But the upside is, we do have a lot of Dove on and Hummingbirds on our property. I’m thinking I should let it grow, what are your thoughts?

  61. 61
    Eileen T.

    I have a bush, actually a few that have these purple berries and the leaves are big, the stems are thick n purplish with some green – most likely a picture would help better for you to help me identify. I live in CT. Since I’m reading that the look a like is death within 15 minutes, I’m not sure I want to experiment. Although my husband and I are very curious to what they are.

  62. 62

    Thank you for the proper identification and information on your website. I finally know the name of the large plant growing beside my house! I hesitated to cut it down because I am a bird lover and thought they would enjoy the berries.

  63. 63

    Thanks for the example. My daughter is making elderberry syrup ( as it has antiviral properties. ) for my grandson. There are pokeberries right beside the elderberries. She thought its was a different kind of elderberry. Now we know

  64. 64

    Super helpful! Thank you!!!!

  65. 65

    Awesome article so helpful! Everything I needed to know

  66. 66

    Does an elderberry tree/shrub have thorns on the trunk? We were snipping big bunches of berries off some wild ones today and I found out that there were nice thorns on the trunks. I assume we were picking elderberries as I have been checking these out for weeks now and comparing them to pictures and videos on line. I had never heard of thorns on the trunks or what ever you call it. They were kind of tall, about 6-10 feet. We would pull them down and hubby would snip while I held it down. Got stuck a couple of times.

  67. 67

    Hi Emily,

    Elderberry does NOT have thorns. It sounds like you may have a Hercule’s Club plant botanically known as Zanthoxylum clava-herculis. Green Deane has a write up about them here: http://www.eattheweeds.com/hercules-club-speak-softly-but/

  68. 68

    Glad I found this ! I have Polk growing on my place, and was pretty sure thats what it was, but every story about Elderberry showed a closeup pic of the berries and I would waver thinking that it might be Elderberry.
    I think that is part of the confusion. Most of the examples i’ve seen online show them up close, so they look similar .
    Now I know that Elderberry has limbs, and grows taller. That helps !
    Thanks !

  69. 69

    I guess I’ll have to buy some.. your pictures have shown me that I have many,many Poke bushes!!! Thanks!

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