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Blue Elderberry Compared to Black

Table 1: Comparison between three of the most commonly harvested subspecies in the U.S.


Western Blue

American Black European Black

Species and subspecies names

Sambucus nigra spp. cerulea Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis Sambucus nigra ssp. nigra

Native Range

North America west of the Rocky Mountains North America east of the Rocky Mountains Wide distribution in Europe

Preferred growing conditions

In the west, appears to be better suited to hotter, drier regions than other subspecies.  Tolerant of high summer heat and long dry season of Mediterranean-type climates. Can tap deep water sources. In the west, may be better suited to cooler, coastal and higher elevation regions. Greater water requirements than cerulea. Well-adapted to the Midwest and Eastern US. In the east, appears to be less cold-hardy than canadensis [1]





Growth/Yield in Sacramento Valley (based on prliminary trials)

Higher than canadensis during first two growing seasons Lower than cerulea during first two growing seasons NA

Harvest window

Longer harvest window (mid June to late September in California’s Sacramento Valley)

More uniform ripening than cerulea and nigra within a shorter harvest window

Longer harvest window than canadensis; less uniform ripening[2]


Compositional analysis of the three subspecies finds differences in sugar content and acidity, indicating flavor differences are likely. Formal sensory evaluations have not been performed to compare directly. Anecdotally, the flavor of cerulea has been described as brighter and more grassy, and the flavor of canadensis as smoother and more caramel.

Nutritional attributes (see Table 2 for more detail)

High levels of phenolic compounds. Lower levels of total anthocyanins. Similar levels of sugar and organic acids to other elderberry subspecies.

High levels of phenolic compounds. Similar levels of sugar and organic acids to other elderberry subspecies.

High levels of phenolic compounds. Similar levels of sugar and organic acids to other elderberry subspecies.

Market recognition

Relatively unknown

Somewhat known



western blue elderberry

photo: Katherine Uhl

American Black elderberry

photo: Katherine Uhl


[1] Wilson, R., et al. 2016. Growing Elderberries: A Production Manual and Enterprise Viability Guide for Vermont and the Northeast. UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, University of Vermont Extension

[2] ibid

While European and American elderberries have been studied for decades, there is currently little information on the Western blue elderberry. Research conducted by Katherine Uhl and Alyson Mitchell at UC Davis’ Department of Food Science and Technology presents data on the composition of blue elderberries, based on nutritional analyses of ripe elderberries harvested from Sacramento Valley hedgerows in 2018 and 2019. Their findings show that while all three elderberry subspecies have similarly high levels of phenolic compounds, and comparable levels of sugar and organic acids, blue elderberries have lower levels of anthocyanins, indicating the presence of higher levels of other phenolics not identified in this study. More information on the health and flavor attributes of elderberry here.

Table 2: Composition of Blue Elderberries Grown in Hedgerows Compared to Literature on Black Elderberries

  Western Blue American Blacka European Blackb
Soluble Solids 14.26 ± 1.33 g per 100 g Fresh Weight (FW) 10.91 to 13.23 g per 100 g FW 6.57 to 14.6 g per100 g FW
pH 3.66 ± 0.12 3.9 to 4.2 3.9 to 4.1
Acidity 0.62 ± 0.09 g citric acid per 100 g FW 0.45 to 1.13 g citric acid per 100 g FW 0.448 to 20.1 g citric acid per 100 g FW
Total monomeric anthocyanins 80.3 ± 33.3 mg Cyanidin Glucoside Equivalents per 100 g FW 99.5 to 444 mg CGE per 100 g FW 170 to 343 mg CGE/100 g FW
Total phenolic content 596 ± 93 mg Gallic Acid Equivalents per 100 g FW 277 to 713.9 mg GAE per 100 g FW 364 to 683 mg GAE per 100 g FW
  1. Range determined from Ozgen et al. (2010), Lee and Finn (2007), and Thomas et al. (2013)
  2. Range determined from Veberic et al. (2009), Mikulic-Petkovsek (2016), Lee and Finn (2007)


  • Lee, J., & Finn, C. E. (2007). Anthocyanins and other polyphenolics in American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and European elderberry (S. nigra) cultivars. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 87, 2665–2675. https://doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.3029

  • Mikulic-Petkovsek, M., Ivancic, A., Schmitzer, V., Veberic, R., & Stampar, F. (2016). Comparison of major taste compounds and antioxidative properties of fruits and flowers of different Sambucus species and interspecific hybrids. Food Chemistry, 200, 134–140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.01.044

  • Ozgen, M., Scheerens, J. C., Reese, R. N., & Miller, R. a. (2010). Total phenolic, anthocyanin contents and antioxidant capacity of selected elderberry (Sambucus canadensis L.) accessions. Pharmacognosy Magazine, 6(23), 198–203. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-1296.66936

  • Thomas, A. L., Perkins-Veazie, P., Byers, P. L., Finn, C. E., & Lee, J. (2013). A comparison of fruit characteristics among diverse elderberry genotypes grown in Missouri and Oregon. Journal of Berry Research, 3(3), 159–168. https://doi.org/10.3233/JBR-130054

  • Veberic, R., Jakopic, J., Stampar, F., & Schmitzer, V. (2009). European elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) rich in sugars, organic acids, anthocyanins and selected polyphenols. Food Chemistry, 114(2), 511–515. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2008.09.080