Safely identifying the elder tree and elderberries in the wild
Every now and again, people make deadly errors while trying to identify edible from poisonous berries.
Identifying the black elderberry in the wild may present some people with a very difficult choice, due to a few other plants and berries that look somewhat similar to the elder. Among these are: the water hemlock (Cicuta maculate), Hercules´ club aka the devil´s walking stick (Ariala spinosa) and Pokeberry (Phytolacca Americana)
So how do you spot the difference between these berries?
Elderberry vs. Hercules ‘ club: While both plants may produce flowers and fruits that resemble each other, there is one very clear difference between both trees. Hercules´ club has thorns on its stem, and the elder tree has none. The elder trees´ leaves have rough edges, while the edges of the Hercules club are smooth. Hercules club is pretty deadly, so it´s important to know these differences.
Elderberry vs. pokeberry: Many foragers are often unsure if the fruits they are looking at are elderberries or pokeberries. Telling these two plants from one another really should not be very difficult. Firstly, the elder tree is a woody shrub which has bark. The Pokeberry plant has no bark and the stem is smooth reddish to deep red in color. Also pokeberries come in long finger-like groups hanging from the end of the branch, while elderberries come in umbrella-like clusters. Pokeberry is pretty deadly and should not be mistaken for elderberry.
Elderberry vs. water hemlock: The water hemlock is another plant that may give trouble to foragers trying to identify the elder tree. Their flowers look very similar (white, umbrella shaped) though the water hemlock doesn´t produce berries. The water hemlock is a small plant which grows to about 6ft (1.8m), and unlike the elder tree has no bark on its stem which is often streaked with purple nodes. Another difference lies in the veins of the leaves. In the elderberry leaves, the veins end at the tip of the teeth at the edges of the leaves, or fade before reaching them, while in water hemlock the veins end in the notches between the teeth. The water hemlock is one of the most toxic plants and is very poisonous to humans.
NEVER consume plants you are not 100% sure of when foraging for food in the wild!