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!

49 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
    Angela

    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
    Diane

    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
    dasuederods

    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
    kathy

    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
    Teddi

    Super helpful!!!! Loved it, thanks!

  12. 12
    alaina

    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! :D 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! :D

  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
    Myra

    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
    john

    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
    Nancy

    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
    kristine

    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
    Nancy

    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
    Lou

    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
    Mary

    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
    Pat

    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
    kristine

    Ethel,

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

  29. 29
    Klarika

    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
    kristine

    Hi Nancy,

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

  32. 32
    Saundra

    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
    STEVE

    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
    Ray

    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
    wanda

    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
    Karen

    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
    Beth

    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
    Mamadee

    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
    Lanni

    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
    Terry

    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
    Candy

    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
    Penny

    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


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