English / Franšais  |  Contact Us
Nova Scotia Museum
Home > Plant Poisons > Elderberry Print This Page Add Page to Your Favourites

ELDERBERRY (SAMBUCUS SPECIES)

Click image to see larger view of Elderberry (Sambucus species) View Larger Image

Elderberry includes common shrubs of the forest (Sambucus racemosa) or edges of forests, roadsides, and streams (S. canadensis) in Nova Scotia. The latter has edible fruit, often preserved in jams, jellies, and wine.

Both contain a cyanide-producing glycoside in their leaves, twigs, and seeds, so special care should be exercised in pressing elderberries for wine or jelly, to ensure that all seeds are removed. It is best that children not use their twigs as pea-shooters or for carved whistles.

A toxic alkaloid is also present in the flowers and unripened fruit, requiring that only ripe fruit be prepared as food.


POISON LOCATION

Seeds, bark, leaves, flowers, and unripened fruit of elderberries.


POISON TYPE

In elderberries, risk of poisoning by alkaloid or a cyanide-producing glycoside.


TYPICAL POISONING SCENARIO

Consumption of young shoots, leaves, and/or quantities of seeds by livestock or children.

Use of tea made from leaves or stems as a herbal cure.

Use of unstrained fruit when making wine or jams.


SYMPTOMS

In very small doses, the human digestive tract is capable of breaking down plant cyanides into harmless compounds.

Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may result.


ELDERBERRY POISON INFORMATION

Alkaloids

Alkaloids are nitrogen-bearing alkaline chemicals that originate in plants. They are derived from amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which especially affect the nervous system. At least 40% of all plant families include plants that contain these compounds.

Many plants have different alkaloids present, each with a specific activity. Some alkaloids are useful medicines; others are harmful, even fatal. Most are bitter tasting. The liver, with the assistance of enzymes, processes the alkaloids that enter the body, rendering some harmless there, while making others more toxic.

One common alkaloid, which many of us seek daily, is caffeine.


Glycosides

Glycosides are toxins in which at least one sugar molecule is linked with oxygen to another compound, often nitrogen-based. They become harmful when the sugar molecule is stripped off, as in the process of digestion.


POISON PLANT LOOKUP

I WANT TO

Poison Centre Information
Nova Scotia Museum

Privacy