elderberry identification clarification

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!

6 Responses to “elderberry identification clarification”

  1. 1

    Thank you – fabulous explanation!

  2. 2
    comfrey cottages

    very thorough explanation kristine! very nice and useful for folks just starting out. i took a friend with me wildforaging yesterday, and she had the same confusion as apparantly some of your readers have. i am going to refer her to your post here as it was so thorough i am sure it will help her in the future:) thanks for sharing:)

  3. 3

    Thank you for this terrific explanation!

  4. 4

    I have some plants that look *exactly* like the elderberry pix (I learned what pokeweed was as a child). But when I crushed and simmered the berries, strained then mixed with homemade apple pectin to make jelly, a tiny taste of the jelly *immediately* made me dizzy! The leaves didn’t smell when I broke a stem off to take back to the house to compare with online pix. Does elderberry have any closer “lookalikes” than pokeweed (which I agree looks nothing like)? I thought ripe elderberries were supposed to be OK after cooking? I threw the half jar I stuck in the fridge out, think I should throw out the other 3 jars too.

  5. 5

    Perfect! Thank you for that clear description.

  6. 6

    Thank you! This explanation was just what I needed.

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