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I know that in order to eat elderberries in a safe way, one has to cook them beforehand. Today, I found out that dried elderberries are a thing. That new knowledge arose some questions on food safety:

  1. Is it safe to eat those dried berries?
  2. If it is safe, then why?
  3. If it is safe, what is the process to dry them at home?
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  • FWIW, elderberries aren't that poisonous. (As a child my family once made whole lot of juice, unknowing that it shouldn't be drunk raw. I drank a lot – it actually tastes much better raw than cooked – without suffering any symptoms, though my parents did get diarrhea). So, maybe the dried berries aren't 100% safe either but in practice one is unlikely to eat so much that it becomes a problem? With juice there's more danger of quickly drinking large amounts, than with dried berries. – leftaroundabout Sep 2 '20 at 20:38
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All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison."
(Paracelsus)

Like with so many things in life, it’s a question of willingness to take a risk and of personal health and individual metabolism.

The general rule is that raw elderberries shouldn’t be consumed because they contain cyanogenic glycosides, i.e. substances that can be transformed into cyanide and ultimately cause cyanide poisoning. As with all plant-based substances, the content can and will vary a lot depending both on the specific strain of plant and the environmental conditions, including soil composition, water or rain and change significantly during the life cycle and ripening stages. For elderberries, the content of cyanogenic glycosides decreases significantly in fully ripe berries, some researcher1 found as little as 0.0054 mg hydrogen cyanide equivalent per gram of berries, which is roughly 0.0001 mg per berry. Considering that a healthy adult human can safety ingest 0.02 mg per kg of body weight, a few ripe berries should be harmless enough. This is the same reason why eating a few apple pips (containing amygdalin, also a cyanogenic glycoside) is harmless.

The numbers above should also explain why individual reports of toxic effects vary so widely, from no effects at all to severe digestive issues.

If you want to consume unheated elderberries, I recommend you chose fully ripe berries and limit the intake to just a few initially (see the numbers above and go way below the statistically safe threshold because individual tolerances may be lower). Note that this post is not an endorsement, it’s just to help you make an informed decision.

The drying process is the same as for other berries - ensure good ventilation and place them on a cloth or fine netting, because the berries are so small. If you want to use a dehydrator, you may have to cover the trays with cloth or mesh if the slats are too wide. Consult the manual for settings.


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Petra Demmer: Kapillarelektrophoretische Untersuchungen an cyanogenen Glykosiden. Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung des Doktorgrades der Naturwissenschaften im Fachbereich Chemie und Pharmazie der Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftlichen Fakultät der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster. Münster 2004, urn:nbn:de:hbz:6-28659388497.

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  • Reading your answer, I've decided to pass on dried elderberries. I think it's not worth the risk. I'll stay with cooked fresh ones. Thank you! – A.D. Oct 5 '20 at 14:39

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