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Missouri farmers hope to start craze with elderberries

Monday, October 25, 2010 | 5:30 p.m. CDT; updated 9:11 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 25, 2010
Elderberries grow on a vine near Hartsburg.

HARTSBURG — Missouri farmers are hoping elderberries will become the next superfruit to tempt health-conscious consumers.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday that interest is growing as farmers learn more about the benefits of the deep purple, indigenous fruit. So far, research has shown that the fruit has high levels of antioxidants, can boost immunity and can lower cholesterol.

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As more is learned, participation in an annual elderberry workshop is growing, with the event attracting 100 people from 13 states and Canada this year.

Terry Durham, one of the nation's leading elderberry farmers, recently started a cooperative called River Hills Elderberry Producers. It is collecting wild and cultivated berries from growers around the state and processing them into juices and jam. The group built a purple-roofed barn that will house a processing facility, which Durham believes will be the country's first elderberry-dedicated facility.

"We want to turn the elderberry into Missouri's superfruit," said Durham, who grows elderberries on 22 acres and is hoping to double production to 50 acres within two years. "We can create an industry right here."

Researchers at MU and Missouri State University used a government grant to begin studying elderberry production in 1997. They took more than 60 exemplary elderberry bushes from around the country and tested them for yield and health, then narrowed the field down to two promising varieties.

"We tested them for many years, and the testing is pretty involved," said Patrick Byers, a regional horticultural specialist with the MU Extension, and a lead elderberry researcher. "Two looked very good, and we're in the process of making those available in the Midwest."

The next step, Byers said, is to expand on research that demonstrates the berries' health benefits.

"For centuries we've known elderberries possess healthy qualities. The question is: What exactly is going on? ... What is it about elderberries that is healthy?" Byers said.


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