CAPRIFOLIACEAE, The Honeysuckle family
The Blue elderberry is a native Oregon shrub. Like other elderberries, it prefers the partial shade at the edge of a forest. It can grow to be 10 to 20 feet tall and around 10 feet wide in time. The heavy fruit clusters that hang down in the fall over the compound leaves have a crumbly waxy bloom that gives the blue berries a frosty cast.
In spring the large, fragrant flower clusters can be harvested for cordials, fritters or dried for tea. (But don’t take them all or you won’t have any berries.) Blue elderberry is highly nutritious and medicinal. It has antiviral properties so it’s great to have around for winter cold season. The berries can be made into syrup, soaked in the liquor of your choice to make an elixir or juiced and frozen. They can also be dried and brewed as tea. I’ve also made jelly out of them which is delicious.
That reminds me, it makes a lovely purple dye too. I think of that and the jelly incident every time I notice the purple stains on my kitchen door.
As you may imagine, this is a great wildlife plant. Pollinators of many species visit the flowers in spring and birds love the berries. But the fruit is so abundant and the birds wait until it is very ripe to take it, so if you keep a watch and harvest at the right time you can get a good crop with out netting or otherwise fussing.
I first saw blue elderberry in September of 2006 – beautiful tall bushes with arching branches heavy with fruit along the roadside on the way to Bridal Veil Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. The way to the falls is a short hike, just 2/3 mile to the waterfall, and then there is another 1/2 mile paved path that passes some of the last remaining camas fields. There are amazing views of the Columbia River.