American elder closely resembles the European species, common elder (S. nigra), and is sometimes considered its subspecies. It is a fast-growing, luxuriant, multi-stemmed shrub producing root suckers, unlike the common elder. Leaves are large, with 5-9 leaflets, giving the shrub an exotic look. American elder flowers in August, after the common elder, with white, scented corymbs. The blue-black berries seldom have time to ripen in Finland. There is conflicting information about their edibility. Ripe and cooked berries have been traditionally used for juices or jams, but there are also reports of the berries causing nausea and vomiting. Other parts of the plant are mildly poisonous. Berries, roots and bark can be used as vegetable dyes, the bark producing a black dye. Branches of dried flowers have been used to repel insects.