Blue elderberry: Note broad, flat-topped inflorescence and the oppositely paired, pinnately compound leaves.
Blue elderberry is a tall shrub to small tree with one to several stems arising from the base to 2-6 meters in height. The stems are soft, glaucous and hollow, with the interior hollow space often filled with a light pith like stryofoam. The leaves are pinnately compound with 5-9 lanceolate or lance-ovate leaflets which taper to a point. The margins are sharply toothed and the base of each leaflet is often unequally shaped. Individual leaflets range from 5-15 cm long and 2-6 cm wide.
The inflorescence is an umbel of many tiny white flowers. This flat-topped surface ranges from 4-20 cm in diameter. Individual flowers measure 4-7 mm across and have 5 petals. The fruits are bluish black and coated with a dense, silvery and waxy bloom of yeast. The fruits are globose in shape and measure 4-6 mm across.
Elderberry contains hydrocyanic acid which can lead to mild cyanide poisoning if consumed in large quantities. The leaves and bark contain the highest concentration of this chemical and should not be ingested. The berries of blue elderberry may be safely consumed and are used to make jams, jellies, pies and wines. In preparing these foodstuffs, one must be aware that the seeds still contain hydrocyanic acid. To remove this threat, one must thoroughly cook the berries and then strain out the seeds. The various species of elderberry are all suitable as large shrubs for native woodland or riparian plantings.
Blue elderberry may be found in open woods and valley bottoms from near sea level to moderate elevations in the mountains.
Blue elderberry may be found from southern British Columbia east to western Montana. It may be found southward to California in the west and through the Rocky Mts. in the east to Arizona and New Mexico.
In the Columbia River Gorge it may be found between the elevations of 100'-3700' between the Sandy River and Horsethief Butte.