York Elderberry


I have very mature York Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis – York) plants that produce lot of fruit. I understand these are toxic and cannot be eaten raw. Is it okay to add the ripened or un-ripened (green) fruit of the York Elderberry plant to the compost bin? I am worried about the toxicity of the fruit and how it would affect the compost. The finished compost is used in my vegetable garden.

Is it okay to add York elderberry leaves or branches to the compost bin


Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners with your timely question.

We applaud you for composting your garden waste. There are many advantages to composting beyond improving your individual garden. Composting your yard waste and kitchen scraps at home, instead of sending them out for pick up, offers you an avenue to be part of the global solution for issues such as overburdened landfills, pollution and global warming.

You are correct, the leaves, stems and roots of Elderberry as well as the seeds in the berries have chemicals which metabolize into cyanide. In fact there are many edible plants such as peaches and apples which possess similar chemicals in their pits and seeds. Eating the raw seeds/ berries of Elderberry can cause a build-up of cyanide in the body and make you ill, however cooking the ripe berries  releases this toxin making them perfectly safe.

Now back to the question at hand, there are many poisonous plants which are found in our homes and gardens; rhubarb, monkshood, dieffenbachias, foxglove, jack-in-the-pulpit, brugmansia, nicotiana, just to name a few all contain products that are toxic to humans and animals. According to the Laidback Gardener ” They all contain products that are toxic to humans and some animals, a vast range of different poisons in fact… but there isn’t one microbes can’t handle. All will quickly break down in a compost pile, turning into safe compost you can use even in your vegetable garden.

Once poisonous plants meet garden soil or are blended into your compost bin, they are under relentless attack by a wide variety of soil microorganisms that treat the poisons as another food source. Sunlight, oxygen, heat, cold, and even water can also play a role in detoxifying chemicals. A study from the University of Davis also confirms this fact. The study was undertaken to determine the toxicity of Oleander derived compost. They  determined: ” The composting process causes a rapid decline in oleandrin concentration and eventually its complete disappear- ance from the compost.

So, compost away, your garden will thank you for it.