Each presentation summary below is from the First International Symposium on ELDERBERRY held June 9-14, 2013 and hosted at Stoney Creek Inn, Columbia, MO by the University of Missouri. The first half of each entry quotes directly from the printed presentation abstracts provided by the authors in bold font. My personal evaluation of potential present and future relevance to elderberry growers and consumers of elder fruit and flower products follow each quotation in regular font.

Of course, in both cases a large amount of information has been left out due to my editorial objectives of reporting concise statements of key learnings. My selection of what was important represents my own experiential bias without intentional critique of anyone’s research. Also, I could not physically attend all presentations; therefore, some presentations will have more commentary due my including information derived from the questions and answers that occurred after each presentation.  All of the symposium's papers have been published in a special edition of Acta Horticulturae. 

Click here to go to online access to all article abstracts and/or to buy ISHS Acta Horticulturae 1061, I International Symposium on Elderberry, Summary Report on the First International Symposium on Elderberry held at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO June 9-14, 2013. 

Click on the following linked (underlined) category pages to read and/or print the available presentation summaries by title. You can print individual presentation summaries or all presented in each category. There were 53 presentations over all, so I have not provided excepts of all of them; however, I listed all program categories whether I have written summaries for them or not. 

Symposium Overview 
Columbia, MO USA, June 9-14, 2013
by Christopher J. Patton MA, MBA  [Download a pdf version]

Organized in June 2013 under the auspices of the International Society for Horticultural Science and hosted by the University of Missouri, the First International Symposium on Elderberry attracted a wide variety of papers published in a peer-reviewed, stand-alone volume of Acta Horticulturae. This volume was published on January 12, 2015; see the above link. 

As someone who grows elderberry and distributes elderberry juice products, my engagement transcended the scope of the conference fairly well. My immediate purpose is to give you a few general observations about the symposium’s content. My plan is to follow up with brief summaries of a number of the presentations that relate especially to consumers, health and nutrition professionals as well as potential growers. 

That the researchers shared great enthusiasm for elderberry’s potential benefits to the well being of humanity and animals was well evident. Most presenters mentioned or referenced how they consumed beverages and/or foods made from elder flowers and/or berries. More than a few elderberry beverages were shared freely in the evenings when the work was done for the day. Most of the research has been done using European black elderberry, Sambucus nigra, but some of the University of Missouri’s research used the North American native-grown and processed elderberry pulp and juice from S. (nigra) canadensis, which relates directly to the cultivation and potential health benefits of native North American elderberry. 

Although a great deal of research – especially clinical studies – remains to be done, those who researched the potential health benefits of elderberry repeatedly summarized their research as supporting elderberry’s traditional use as a densely nutritional herb that has imparted a number of observed health benefits to its consumers. These results indicated the strong antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that elderberry’s flavonoid antioxidants (anthocyanins, rutin, quercetin, etc.) have demonstrated in lab tests. Different research reports supported the use of black elderberry flowers and fruit for both prophylactic (take in advance to help prevent a condition) and in treatment of symptoms from the flu or other malady – often in conjunction with conventional western medical treatment. One in particular suggested that elderberry leaves had scientifically unexplored potential for healing as well.

The researchers differed over how much was good with an acknowledgement that too much produced a noticeable purging effect on human biology that should deliver the message of moderation. A number of presentations discussed the potential for elder flowers and fruits to provide both direct and indirect health benefits. Thus, compounds found in elder flowers and fruits can directly neutralize free radicals. The biological mechanisms involved in the indirect health benefits are more difficult to identify and prove, but in brief, elder flowers and fruit help the body’s own immune / metabolic systems to respond to health threats present in its environment.

In summary, elder flowers and fruits provide a broad array of densely present nutrients that contribute to general health and enhance the body’s ability to respond to health threats. Scientific research will take decades to explore these biological mysteries, but in the meantime the consumption of elderberry seems to do a body good. Just how good and in specifically what way, we will all need to wait and read about later as the scientists keep researching, presenting and publishing. Some suggested that we could look forward to a Second Symposium on Elderberry in 4-6 years.

Complete Elderberry Symposium Guide in pdf.

Elderberry Botany 

Elderberry: Botany, Horticulture & Potential as a Food and Medicinal Crop
Denis Charlebois et al - a comprehensive book by one of the Symposium presenters.

A Brief Review of Recent Controversies in the Taxonomy and Nomenclature of Sambucus nigra sensu lato W.L. Applequist
William L. Brown Center, Missouri Botanical Garden, P.O. Box 299, St. Louis, MO, USA

The genus Sambucus is widespread and morphologically difficult, and as a result, no taxonomic treatment to date has been entirely satisfactory. The only modern revision, by Bolli, reduced the number of recognized species worldwide from over 30 to nine. In Bolli’s treatment, five taxa formerly considered to be distinct species, including S. canadensis, S. cerulea, S. peruviana, and the endemic island taxa S. maderensis and S. palmensis, were placed within S. nigra as subspecies. Available data relating to these taxa are briefly reviewed. It is suggested that, while the recognition of the American elder as S. nigra subsp. canadensis is reasonable, S. cerulea and possibly S. peruviana would be better treated as distinct species; the best classification of the other two taxa remains uncertain. The preferred family assignment for Sambucus is Adoxaceae, though the name of this family may change in future depending upon the ultimate disposition of published nomenclatural proposals now in process.

MEC Observations
After reading the above manuscript, I have the following to share, which might guide further research:

  • Sambucus nigra subs. canadensis seems the best classification (p. 5, 7) - especially for commercial purposes.
  • I had a researcher from the UK, Alice Jones, visit with us last year. She referenced a couple of horticulturalists in Europe who had tried for years to hybridized S. nigra with canadensis unsuccessfully, so I am curious if Marge evidences any hybridization.
  • Top of p. 6, confirmed the presence of anthocyanins and polyphenols in canadensis in greater number/variety and quantity as well as uniquely from other S. nigra variations. This would be interesting and useful to document.
  • I found the concept of ochlospecies ( bottom half p. 6) most descriptive and useful in explaining the tremendous variation found across North America.
  • I quite agree that S. cereulia is a separate species. 
  • I am curious as to what the 2017 vote of the Nomenclature Section determined, if anything. (Last lines of paper.)
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