Native California elderberry bushes attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to farms. University of California specialists say hedgerow elderberry plantings can bring additional benefits through production of elderberry products. UC advisors are researching production practiices, costs and varieties. Several farms around the state already harvest elderflowers and elderberries for creating syrups, jams and other products.
Native California elderberries can be found at the intersection of sustainable farming, super nutrition and economic viability. Naturally drought tolerant, flavorful and packed with nutrients, they are capturing the interest of farmers, health-conscious consumers and scientists.
Elderberries were the focus of a field day offered by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) in September at Cloverleaf Farm, an organic berry and tree fruit operation in Dixon.
Elderberries occur naturally around the world. In California, Native Americans used the tree's stems for making flutes, berries for food and purple dye, and bark, leaves and flowers for their purported anti-inflammatory, diuretic and laxative properties.
“They had a relationship with the plant for food, medicine and music,” said SAREP academic coordinator Sonja Brodt. “We wish to honor the elderberry's history here and thousands of years of management by California native tribes.” UC Cooperative Extension advisor Rachael Long said elderberries are her favorite native plant.
“They're pretty in the spring and summer. The flowers smell like cloves. It's a wonderful fragrance,” she said.
But perhaps the best attribute of elderberries for Long, a proponent of planting hedgerows on the edges of farmland, is the tree's ecological benefits. Elderberries can be among the rows of trees, shrubs, grasses and sedges in hedgerows that attract beneficial insects and pollinators to farms to help with biocontrol of pests and pollination of plants in adjacent crops.