Elderberries are a popular foraged berry that is often used to make jams, pies and wine. Elderberry juice sometimes shows up in cocktails as well. The problem with this berry is that it is not always easy to find and when it is, you have to process it properly so that it doesn’t make you sick. If you can’t find it near you, try one of these elderberry substitutes.
Your best bet: Elderflower
Elderflower has an advantage over other elderberry substitutes in that it comes from the same plant. While the two have quite a few differences, they do have some similarities — especially when it comes to health benefits — that can make them work as substitutes for each other.
Elderflower is intensely floral and sweet with notes of vanilla and fruit, which can make it an improvement over elderberry’s tart astringency in many recipes. Also, elderflower is not toxic and requires no special steps to detoxify it.
A decent second choice: Huckleberry
Huckleberries are similar to blueberries in terms of appearance and flavor. They are also relatives of elderberries, which is another factor that makes them good substitutes. Huckleberries will provide antioxidants just like elderberries. They are sweet with an element of tartness that can help them to stand in for elderberries.
Huckleberries come in different colors: red, blue, and black. They mostly grow in the wild, which means that you will have to forage for them if you need them. They have an advantage over elderberries in that they are not toxic and can be eaten cooked or uncooked. You can use them exactly as you would use elderberries — they make great syrups, jams, and jellies.
In a pinch: Chokecherry
Chokecherries are the state fruit of North Dakota and were popular among Native Americans and the settlers from Europe who came after them. You can use chokecherries like elderberries. Chokecherries are great in pies, jellies, and syrups just like elderberries. They have a deep purple-red color like that of elderberries.
As with elderberries, you will want to process chokecherries before you consume them — both elderberries and chokecherries can make you sick. Both fruits also have bitter and astringent flavor profiles that you can improve by cooking them. You should only consume chokecherries and elderberries cooked, never raw.
Pokeberries are the pokeweed plant’s fruit. Pokeberries and elderberries have similar coloring but pokeberries are larger and each one has a dent. The flavor is a little different as well since elderberries are tart and astringent; pokeberries are slightly sweet with a little bitterness in the background but not much else. Their blandness allows them to work well in most recipes that require elderberries since you can use other ingredients to supply the tart flavors.
Pokeberries have a bad reputation because much of the pokeweed plant is poisonous. While the seeds within the berries are quite toxic, you probably won’t run into any problems if you don’t bite into them.
Aronia berries are also called chokeberries (do not confuse them with chokecherries) and are similar in appearance and nutritional profile to elderberries. Like elderberries, they contain flavonoids and vitamins that help to treat and prevent health problems. The bark and leaves of aronia berry plants don’t have any toxins so you don’t have to worry about accidentally poisoning yourself.