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ORRIN MORRIS: Make pies, jellies, wine with elderberry

I'm stretching the wildflower definition again and including another shrub or small tree because of the attractiveness of the bloom.

A few botanists are strict in their definition of wildflowers and limit their list to plants with non-woody stems. However, most botanists cross the line and include a few small shrubs.

On the other hand, as an artist, I have based my decisions to include certain plants on a very unscientific criterion, eye appeal. In fact, I stray afar and have included the flowering dogwood, Southern magnolia, redbud, mimosa and rhododendron, to name a few, for no other reason than eye appeal.

One of the early plant researchers was the Hebrew king, Solomon. I wonder if he used beauty as a criterion for classifying the plants he studied. First Kings 4:29-33 records the breadth of Solomon's inquiry. Verse 33 specifies his botanical and biological interests, "He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish."ELDERBERRY

Sambucus canandensisThe elderberry bush grows in moist soils in the eastern half of the United States. Its blooms form an off-white cluster from May through July. Fruit forms and turns dark purple as fall approaches.

The 6- to 9-inch leaves are pinnate with seven elliptical leaflets. The edges of the leaves are saw-toothed and slightly droop, as illustrated.

Elderberry is native to the U.S. and thus is also called American elder. A cousin, the European elder, was introduced during Colonial times. It had several medicinal values that were not present in the American variety, according to "The Complete Book of Herbs, a practical guide to growing and using herbs," by Lesley Bremness.

Elderberry may grow 10 feet tall but has only a few branches compared to plants easily identified as shrubs or small trees. The "trunk" is woody with a smooth light gray bark. The center of these stems is a soft pith. Children like to remove the pith and make blowguns and whistles.

For more than two centuries, elderberry has been widely used for pies, jellies, preserves and wine. Though such uses are rarely noted now, birds and many mammals still feed on the berries.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers.