Elderberry and pokeberry have been used throughout history, though many people are still confused over the uses of elderberry vs pokeberry and telling them apart. These berries are valuable due to their health benefits and other characteristics and are found as wild plants in much of North America.
Although the two berries have a similar hue and look, they are far from identical. Pokeberries grow in bunches down the sides of the plant’s stems, and each berry has a dent; elderberries are smaller and grow in loose clusters.
Elderberries and pokeberries are not related, despite their similar appearances. They arise from two different plants with two different origins. The elderberry grows on the elder plant, which also produces elderflowers, whereas the pokeberry comes from the pokeweed plant.
The Difference between Elderberries and Pokeberries
You can find elderberries and pokeberries in late summer, growing wild, popping up in gardens, or staining sidewalks. The most significant difference between elderberries and pokeberries is toxicity. The elderberry plant’s berries are safe to consume when fully ripe, and the flowers may be used for tea, while the pokeberry is not safe to ingest in any form.
Elderberry and pokeberry grow well by roadsides and riverbanks. A marsh and other damp regions are ideal habitats, though they often appear in yards and gardens as birds carry the seeds.
Recognizing the elderberry vs pokeberry and how to prepare the elderberry properly is critical. Both the elderberry and pokeberry cause serious side effects if consumed incorrectly.
From a culinary sense, edibility is the biggest differentiator. Most recipes utilizing elderberries include other flavorful ingredients as the berry isn’t typically enjoyable on its own.
Answering the questions of what are pokeberries and what are elderberries helps illustrate the difference between elderberries and pokeberries to allow growers to cultivate the berries and use them in the kitchen.
What are Pokeberries?
Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) is a perennial herb that may grow up to 20 feet tall, though most only reach four to 12 feet. White blossoms and lance-shaped 6- to 12-inch long leaves hang from the magenta stalks during the summer.
Green berries develop after the flowers fade, slowly ripening to dark purple berries or practically black berries. The berries may resemble those on blueberry or huckleberry plants so be sure you have the right ones before picking and eating them.
Despite all components of the pokeweed, including the berries, roots, leaves, and stems, being deadly to humans, some people risk eating poke salad every spring. When the plants first sprout from the ground, the fragile stems and leaves are harvested to make the typical spring delicacy.
The toxin is said to be removed by repeatedly boiling the stems and leaves and discarding the water used in between, though many food experts advise against it. They claim some poison could persist and be ingested even after boiling the stems and leaves, making it unsafe.
Native Americans used pokeberries as a rheumatism salve and treatment, but they have a variety of additional purposes. The berries similar to blackberries in color only are devoured by many animals and birds with no side effects and attract wildlife. Considering its medicinal properties and uses in herbalism, some still see the pokeberry as a valuable plant on the homestead.
What are Elderberries?
Many people have questions about elderberries, including where do elderberries come from? Generally, the American elder alludes to the North American shrub (Sambucus canadensis) or elderberry bush.
The elderberry tree refers to the non-native tree (Sambucus nigra), which reaches a height of over 20 feet and width. Ideal companion plants for elderberry trees include phlox and bee balm, as well as winterberry.
Elderflower wine and elderberry syrup are well-known products of the elderberry plant. Not to be confused with Queen Anne lace, the elderberry is a favorite along with other wild edibles like yarrow and has even been featured in the Herbal Roots Zine. The ripe berries are used in homesteading to make a DIY tincture, wine, or herbal medicine.
To grow elderberry plants to make elderberry syrup or gummies, plant them in a partially shaded area with acidic, well-draining soil, and ensure they are well watered. Few elderberry trees best grow in shade, as most prefer full sun or only a little shade.
This tree grows at a modest rate of six to 12 feet each year in the first few years. You can grow elderberry trees in very large pots or containers if you don’t have room in the yard.
It may take two to three years from planting for fragrant, waxy white blooms to emerge in the spring and fruits to develop in the fall. The best time to fertilize elderberries is around early spring every year, no matter what your growing zone.
From time to time, you may have problems with elderberry tree leaves. Aphids love the plant; a steady stream from the water hose usually takes care of them.
Elderberry vs Pokeberry
Pokeberry was initially known as inkberry due to the intense magenta color of its juice, which was brilliant enough to be used as a dye. Elderberries don’t have the same vibrant color. Pokeberries may not be used in place of elderberries in foods, as pokeberries are toxic and not recommended for eating.
If you come across a small tree or plant with purplish berries in your garden, it’s essential to conduct plant identification to discern if you’re dealing with the elderberry, which is safe for wildcrafting, or poisonous pokeweed berries.
The elderberry and pokeberry look alike and are easily confused with other weeds, fruit, and medicinal plants like poison sumac berries. Knowing how to identify elderberry vs pokeberry, and understanding the difference between elderberries and pokeberries, is vital for safety.
Once you’ve answered the question of what are pokeberries and why they are dangerous, it becomes easier to avoid accidentally ingesting one. Though elderberry requires careful preparation, it has multiple health benefits, including reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system.
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