From Folklore to Science: Cultivating Elderberry

MU will host the first international symposium on elderberries

It’s been known for centuries as nature’s medicine chest, but modern scientists have mostly ignored the elderberry—until recently.

Next year, the College of Agriculture Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) at the University of Missouri, in conjunction with several partners, will host the First International Symposium on Elderberry June 9-14, 2013.

Mature elderberries at Southwest Research Center in Mt. Vernon, Mo.

This will be the world’s first gathering of international scientists from multiple disciplines studying all aspects of the elderberry plant and fruit, and its use as a food and dietary supplement.  Horticulturists, botanists, biochemists, food scientists, economists, and others will gather in mid-Missouri during peak elderberry flowering season for several days of scientific exchange and fellowship.

Topics include:

  • Elderberry and Horticulture
  • Elderberry and Health
  • Elderberry and Business / Economics

The elderberry is a native Missouri shrub and has recently emerged as a promising specialty crop for Missouri. Andrew Thomas, research assistant professor of plant sciences at MU, has been cultivating elderberries at CAFNR’s Southwest Research Center for 14 years and is coordinating the symposium.

“Elderberry is an understudied and neglected crop,” Thomas said. “When you look at its antioxidant content it’s nearly off the charts. It’s fairly easy to grow, internationally known and has many uses, including wine, juice, jams, cooking, food colorants and increasingly in medicinal/nutraceutical products,” he added.

Hippocrates reportedly called the elderberry his “medicine chest.” Dennis Lubahn, professor of biochemistry and director of the MU Center for Botanical Interaction Studies, is investigating the elderberry’s potential to fight prostate cancer. Lubahn said preliminary tests show promise that elderberry in high concentrations can inhibit hedgehog signaling, a pathway important in prostate cancer.

Elderberry research plot at Southwest Research Center

Due to research and grower initiatives, Missouri is emerging as a national leader in elderberry development and production, and in the last three years the largest acreage of improved elderberry has been developed here. Thomas said the international symposium can fast-track the growth of Missouri’s elderberry industry. The symposium is linked with an annual elderberry grower’s workshop and festival.

“I feel honored that they chose our area to have the symposium,” said Terry Durham, a local elderberry grower. “The research trials the university has done has allowed us as farmers to have good plant material to work with. There’s huge growth potential in Missouri.” Durham noted that the United States consumes 60 percent of the world’s elderberries, but imports more than 90 percent of the fruit.

The Symposium is being organized under the auspices of the International Society for Horticultural Science, and research papers resulting from the Symposium will be published in a peer-reviewed stand-alone volume of Acta Horticulturae.  More information, including registration and abstract submission are forthcoming, so check the website often as the Symposium unfolds.

The Symposium is a collaborative project including the following partners: MU Southwest Research Center; MU Cooperative Extension Service; MU Center for Agroforestry; MU Dept. of Biochemistry; MU Division of Plant Sciences, MU Center for Botanical Interactions Studies; Lincoln University; Missouri State University; Missouri Botanical Garden

For more specific information, contact Andrew Thomas, University of Missouri (USA) at 417-466-2148 or


Kenneth E McDowell

I would like to get information concerning growing elderberry. My family has acreage which is not being used and have interests in the potential of growing elderberry. Saw a farm south of Columbia last year which farms elderberry and am familiar with the winery in Kansas by Wichita which grows and produces elderberry products. This will be a start up farming situation and will need the how to’s and all through to the market avenues. I am a retired Boeing inspector, a lifetime Mizzou alum with a degree in Agronomy who got very little use of degree once I got in aerospace.

Donald A. Gatzke, Ph.D. 1973

I was visiting my brother in South Dakota this past week (I live in Alaska 10 months a year)and he was showing me this “strange plant.” I immediately recognized it to be an elderberry bush. It is the only one he had ever seen. When I told him about it, he said he would move it to a “safe area” where it would not be sprayed/mowed. How can he transplant and nourish this bush? He asked me about moisture, fertilizer, cover, etc. I would love to know more about these things so I can help him get a “stand” of these growing. I have property in Montana where they grow “like weeds!” Now I am excited to help him save the ONE he has! I look forward to hearing more about raising them.

Edgar Merino

It is good that my graduate university is researching about this topic which is of worlwide interest for the male health as is the prostate health. My congratulations for this excelent scientific work. With the best regards, Edgar Merino, from Riobamba, Ecuador, South America.


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