You can figure out the difference between Elderberry and Pokeweed by looking a few of the visible characteristics of each which I’ll detail here.
A student of mine recently brought in a branch with purple berries. I am familiar with Pokeweed but not elderberry in the wild. It is so important to double and triple check plant ID’s when in the woods. If you are not sure, please don’t eat them and be careful with children too.
Elderberry: Sambucus nigra
I have included pictures of a lookalike, Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana. Though the flowers are different, the purple berry and red stems can be easily confused with elderberry. The berries of pokeweed are NOT edible and can cause a very bad stomach ache and should not be eaten be children. The young shoots in early spring, 6” tall or less can be eaten as a pot herb. Foraged greens like pokeweed need to be boiled two or three times to make the green palatable. Pokeweed is typically shorter than elderberry, easily bent and can be invasive. I always recommend folks to check 3-5 field guides when identifying a plant and to check with someone who can verify the plant before consuming.
Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, ( on the right) is easily found in our forests and wooded areas. It too likes to hang out at the forest edges. The berries have shorter stems, are closely attached to the main stem and again are not edible. They are used however to make a natural dye. Naturopathic physicians use the root of pokeweed in their practices. Because it is potent you will not find poke root easily in most health food stores.
The flowers of both are white in the early spring but are very different. Here is a photo of the elder flower to your left and pokeweed on your right.
Two plants that look alike can easy be mixed up. Spring is a good time to test your knowledge of identifying these two flowering shrubs, small trees.
In the meantime, consider elderberry for your home medicine chest.