Poke Berries Vs Elderberries: Which Is Better To Grow?

Pokeweed berries and elder fruits are two commonly encountered types of berries. Both of them have a long history of medicinal and culinary uses. They may look somewhat similar at first glance. However, there are several differences between poke berries vs elderberries. Let’s learn to differentiate them and understand them for the correct uses.

Elderberry vs Pokeberry

Poke Berries Vs Elderberries: Which Is Better To Grow

I. Poke Berries Vs Elderberries: Identification
1.1. Pokeberry
1.2. Elderberry
II. Poke Berries Vs Elderberries: Living Conditions
2.1. Pokeberry
2.2. Elderberry
III. Poke Berries Vs Elderberries: Benefits
3.1. Pokeberry
3.2. Elderberry
VI. Poke Berries Vs Elderberries: Uses
4.1. Pokeberry
4.2. Elderberry
V. Which Plant Is Better To Grow?
5.1. Pokeberry
5.2. Elderberry
VI. Conclusion

I. Poke Berries Vs Elderberries: Identification

You can easily see the differences in appearance between poke berry (Phytolacca Americana berry) and elderberry (Sambucus Nigra berry) when observing. Then, name the fruit variety based on the following identifications.  

1.1. Pokeberry

Poke berries are bright purple-black and grow on tall, green-stemmed plants known as American pokeweed. These berries typically appear in large clusters and have a distinctive glossy sheen. You can also gather American pokeweed seeds from them.

poke berry appearance

The ripe berry has an attractive dark purple color. But are highly toxic and dangerous for humans and animals. Local people often use these berries to make purple dye. 

1.2. Elderberry

Elderberries are smaller and darker than poke berries. They grow in clusters on bushes or small trees. These berries are typically dark purple or black when ripe. Besides, they have a slightly waxy appearance.

elderberries appearance

Moreover, these berries are edible. They taste sweet, so people often use them in many recipes, such as jams, syrups, and pies.

II. Poke Berries Vs Elderberries: Living Conditions

Phytolacca americana and Sambucus nigra berries have some similarities in terms of growing regions, but they have different requirements. You had better understand the ideal living conditions of these plants if you want to cultivate them. 

2.1. Pokeberry

Pokeweed berries come from Phytolacca americana trees. This plant often grows up to 10 feet tall in moist, open areas. You can find them as wild weeds in many locations around your neighborhood, such as:

  • Fields
  • Meadows
  • Roadsides 

pokeweed location

It prefers full sunlight and fertile soil. But this weed can also tolerate partial shade and less ideal conditions. They can grow well from pokeweed seeds.

2.2. Elderberry

Elderberries come from the elder tree, also known as the Sambucus nigra. It is a deciduous tree that grows up to 30 feet tall. This plant often grows in damp areas. Therefore, you will find them commonly in locations with high humidity, such as:

  • Streambanks
  • Forests
  • Swamps

elder trees in the forest

They prefer well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine. Like pokeweed, elderberry weed can also tolerate some shade. But these bushes require regular pruning and maintenance to ensure a good crop of berries.

III. Poke Berries Vs Elderberries: Benefits

These red-purple berries contain antioxidants, but you must prepare and use them properly to obtain the following benefits.

3.1. Pokeberry

Pokeweed berries have many benefits for health coming from their nutrients. Here are some potential benefits of pokeberry after proper processing:

  • Antioxidant and antiviral properties
  • Natural diuretic 
  • Pain relief 
  • The traditional use for arthritis and skin ailments 

pokeweed relieve pain

Although poke berries have some medicinal properties, they are unsafe to consume and can be toxic. Avoid eating them unless an experienced person has processed and prepared them. 

3.2. Elderberry

Elderberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamins A and C (1). Therefore, they have various rewards for our bodies and minds. Some potential benefits of these fruits include:

  • Boosting immune system function
  • Fighting off respiratory infections and colds (2)
  • Reducing inflammation and oxidative stress (3)
  • Improving heart health
  • Regulating blood sugar levels (4)
  • Supporting digestion and gut health
  • Relieving constipation and promoting bowel regularity
  • Acting as a natural diuretic (5)
  • Protecting against certain types of cancer (6)
  • Enhancing skin health and reducing the signs of aging

beautiful skin

Luckily, you can enjoy these benefits by consuming these berries in food. 

VI. Poke Berries Vs Elderberries: Uses 

Both pokeberry and elderberry have a variety of potential medicinal and culinary uses, but they are not interchangeable.

4.1. Pokeberry

The plant and its berries are toxic if ingested raw or uncooked. They can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and even death. However, here are some historical/traditional uses of poke berries with proper processing methods:

  • Dyeing: The local people have used the deep purple juice of pokeberries as a natural dye for fabrics, yarn, and even feathers.
  • Medicine: Some Native American tribes used poultices from cooked pokeberries to relieve joint pain and skin ailments. However, you should avoid doing it without the guidance of a licensed medical professional.
  • Insecticides: They used pokeberry extract insecticidal sprays before synthetic insecticides took over.
  • Food coloring: They also use a small amount of juice or concentrated pigment from the berries as a natural food coloring, particularly in beverages.

poke berry ink

4.2. Elderberry

Humans have used elderberries for various purposes throughout history, particularly in traditional medicine. Here are some of the most common uses:

  • Immune support: This berry is a popular supplement during cold and flu season. 
  • Digestive health: Humans have used them to relieve constipation and other digestive issues. They may also have anti-inflammatory effects on the digestive tract.
  • Skin health: Its extracts may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. So, it reduces skin inflammation and improves the appearance of wrinkles.
  • Culinary use: Many people use this berry to make jams, jellies, syrups, and wine due to their tart flavor. 

Elderberry-Tincture-for skincare

However, avoid eating elderberries raw, as they contain cyanogenic glycosides causing gastrointestinal distress. Only consume properly processed products. 

V. Which Plant Is Better To Grow? 

When considering which one is better to grow, consider the following factors. Below are some pros and cons of cultivating each berry:

5.1. Pokeberry

There are two advantages of pokeweeds.  

  • Pokeweed plants are easy to grow and require minimal care.
  • They produce vibrant purple-black berries that can add a color pop to your garden. 

collect pokeberries

But they have many disadvantages that you should consider. 

  • The berries contain toxins and should not be consumed raw.
  • Some people may find cooking and boiling processes for reducing toxicity from berries time-consuming.
  • Pokeweed plants can grow invasive in some regions and take over other surrounding plants.

5.2. Elderberry

You may want to grow an elder tree due to the following benefits. 

  • They are more versatile in their uses. You can use them in many recipes, such as wine, syrup, and teas.
  • They are known for their medicinal properties and can help boost the immune system.
  • Elderberry plants can attract beneficial birds and insects to your garden. 

Elderberries for cooking

Check out some drawbacks of the plant before planting them. 

  • Elderberry plants require more care and attention than pokeweed. They prefer moist, well-drained soil and regular pruning.
  • The berries may need to be cooked or processed before use, as they can cause digestive issues if ingested raw.
  • Some people may find elderberry plants challenging to cultivate due to their vulnerability to pests and diseases.

VI. Conclusion

There are many features to differentiate poke berries vs. elderberries, such as appearance, living conditions, uses, and benefits. Compare their pros and cons to choose the better one to grow. Buy American pokeweed seeds from The Rike if you decide to plant them. 


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