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The concern with elderberries seems to be that the whole plant contains fairly high levels of cyanide...which is released harmlessly by the berries when they are cooked.
On the other hand, wild birds do seem to eat them raw with no problem at all. There are a lot of plants that are listed as potentially toxic to certain animals, but in reality seem to be harmless. My chickens consume all the oxalis and wisteria they can get their beaks into (they have stripped a huge wisteria vine clean each year) and have never shown any illness at all, but both are listed as toxic to poultry.
I would go ahead and feed them the berries, maybe a little at first and then building up to a larger amount. All the websites where people discuss their chickens eating elderberries seem to agree that the chickens love them and no harm done.
donna, you don't want elderberry jelly or syrup? cold and flu season is coming quickly! if you cut the fronds of berries and put them in a bag in the freezer they are really easy to roll off the stems and use later when you have time.
also, regarding eating them, there is one species that is not supposed to be toxic when fresh. i believe it is sambucus nigra. so if you know what yours are you may not have to worry about the toxicity. that is according to my friend who is a licenced herbalist, i know that many information sources just say that all of the species can not be eaten raw so maybe it is still undetermined.
that's why we aren't eating them. I don't know which one it is as I dug it from the wild many year ago and DH dug it brought it here when we moved. I plant fruiting trees and bushes just for the birds. now that I have chickens they get some too
Donna, if the berries are purple/black, you can eat them cooked in pies, jams, jellies, cough syrup... The red elderberries, Sambucus racemosa are said to be poisonous by most people, and all parts of any elder are toxic except the berries. http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/959/
Don't confuse unripe black elderberries which are reddish, with true red elderberries. (See photos on link above.) You probably wouldn't find Sambucus racemosa where you live anyway.
The red elderberries and gold elderberries are inedible (but, ornamental and shade-tolerant). The American and black elderberry (native to Europe) are edible. Blue elderberries (native to Pacific Northwest) are OK in wine and preserves.
Yep, that's the kind you want! When you rinse them, any green and red ones usually float to the top and you can skim them off. Much easier to stem them if you freeze them overnight... the tiny, tiny ones won't hurt you.
I run my berry juice and pulp through a cheesecloth or jelly bag to get out all the seeds, stem bits and skins after I have cooked them in some water.