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Blue elderberry

Scientific Name:
Sambucus nigra L. subsp. cerulean
Native Name(s):
  1. Northern Paiute: hubu' (Kelly 1932), hubu (Fowler 1989), hoo-boo (Train et al. 1957); koo-booie-du-ney (Train et al. 1957), koon-oo-gip (Train et al. 1957), who-booie (Train et al. 1957)
  2. Pit River: warakui (Garth 1953)
  3. Klamath: Slō'-lös (Coville 1897)

Blue elderberry is a spreading shrub or tree, reaching 6-25 feet tall. Leaves are made up of five to nine leaflets. Leaflets are bi-colored (dark on top, lighter on the bottom). Margins are finely serrated. Flowers are white, and born in umbels. Fruits are blueish-to-black and are coated with a waxy powder giving them a dusty blue appearance.

Identification tips
While the ranges of red and blue elderberry overlap, blue elderberry is more common in warmer settings. Red elderberry flowers appear as conical clusters, while the flower clusters of blue elderberry appear umbel-like. Fruits are 5-6 mm wide, and a dark dusty blue color at maturity. Each fruit contains 4-5 nutlets which are brown in color, ovate, and range in size from 2-3 mm. Nutlet surfaces appear wrinkled or wavy.

Starch granules
Starch granules are rare in elderberry fruits. Monomorphic in shape and monomodal in size, granules range in size from 2.5 to 6 microns, with an average length of 5 microns. Granules are sub-spherical with some angular faceting. Smooth surfaces with white dimple at centric hilum. Crosses appear faint with even arms.


Blue elderberry occurs from 5600-9100 feet in elevation along moist stream beds in well-drained sunny sites from pinyon-juniper woodlands to pine or fir forests.


Blue elderberry occurs from western Canada south to Texas, and from the Pacific coast east to Nebraska and Texas.


Blue elderberry was consumed by many tribes. It could be eaten fresh, dried, boiled, or mashed. 

As food

Northern Paiute: "Elderberries (Sambucus glauca Nutt.) (hubu') were eaten fresh or dried; they were not cooked before being dried." (Kelly 1932:100)

Northern Paiute: "[H]ubu [Sambucus racemosa spp. pubens; red elderberry] is picked in the fall, like grapes. It is spread to dry in the sun in a large fan-shaped winnowing basket (samuna). They used a sack the size of a 25 lb flour sack, woven of sagebrush, watsi mago' (sagebrush sack) to put them in. They were boiled (not ground) into a sort of soup. Berries and all were eaten." (Fowler 1989:50)

Pit River: "Elderberries (warakui, Sambucus velutinus) were mashed and mixed with manzanita flour and stored in dried cakes." (Garth 1953:139)

Klamath: "The berries, slō'-lö-säm, are an article of food." (Coville 1897:104)

As medicine
Northern Paiute: " An infusion of the dried flowers is taken as a tea to cure diarrhea." (Train et al. 1957:92)

Pit River: "Flutes (corworas) were usually made from elderberry wood (KB said that tiger-lily stalks might also be used) and had either three or four holes." (Garth 1953:172)

Distribution Map: