It’s my first year getting better acquainted with the Elderberries in the yard and I only regret that I didn’t take the time to get to know these dainty, sweet, (when prepared ::) things sooner.
About the Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis):
This shrub grows wild in many areas around the country. It was once referred to as ‘nature’s medicine chest’.
They can also be easily grown in the home garden. Some say they grow best from seed and others recommend cuttings or root divisions.
The flowers in the spring and the ripe, dark blue berries in late summer are the only edible parts of this plant. In the spring, they note that when the elderberry plant is flowering it can sometimes be confused with ‘water hemlock’ — a very toxic plant that should always be avoided — so as with all wild edibles — a reminder to do your homework and be confident in your identification. One distinguishing difference is the leaves…the leaves on the elderberry are opposite each other along the stem, while the hemlock leaves alternate….also…the stems of the hemlock are hollow and the elderberry stems are filled with a white/gray pith.
The flowers are great in teas and fritters and things.
The fully ripe berries are perfectly fine to eat raw. (they’re not the best tasting ‘right off the bush raw’ anyway, but there is conflicting information out there regarding raw v. cooked — some eat the fully ripe berries raw no problems…some experience adverse reactions…so best to just be aware and sample accordingly. Most uses for the berries involve them being cooked or dried, which I’ve found really brings out the better flavor of the berry, anyway.
They’re in the superfood category because they’re LOADED with nutritional goodness…vitamins, powerful antioxidants, anthocyanins, flavonoids, etc…..known for their ‘flu fighting’ properties. They’re right up there with blueberries, aronia berries, cranberries and blackberries.
There are also RED elderberries out there which I personally haven’t seen in our area…..and can’t really speak to, but will say this…. read up on them before using — I’ve read in some places they’re edible when cooked and de-seeded (they say it’s the seeds, not the fruit that’s toxic) — other sources say to not eat them. (a quick study is always a good thing!)
We have quite a few bushes that we’ve been able to harvest from so far and my biggest struggle is always ‘what to make first’. What can I whip up that will really give me a good taste of this particular berry? These berries are known for making excellent pies, jams/jellies, wine, syrups, sauces, juices, extracts, dyes and teas.
As I mentioned, you want to harvest them when they are fully ripe — a deep, blue-ish purple. We would head to the woods and fill a box by cutting the whole ‘umbrella’ of berries from the shrub and then sit around the table to de-stem…..They kind of just ‘roll’ off the stems — they’re small to work with, but we found it to be a relaxing, mindless job and didn’t really have any trouble de-stemming them fresh. (Another tip that I haven’t tried is where they say if you freeze them first, they will also come away from the stems very easily)
What I’ve done so far is to cook each batch of berries down to create a lovely juice – (it’s this beautiful purple-y magenta color — makes you feel good just looking at it, let alone consuming it!)
(add 1 cup of water/1 quart of berries) Bring to a boil for 10 minutes or so…mash down the berries and cook for another 10-15 minutes. I then mush and strain using a couple of mesh strainers or a mill……could also squeeze through some cheesecloth.
I then used that beautiful juice to create syrups and jellies.
The finished products are really quite tasty and are comparable to the blueberry or blackberry in taste.
I’ve also dried a batch to play around with later.
I’ve only worked with the elderberry by itself thus far, to get a good taste of it…but I can imagine it would be wonderful mixed with other fruity concoctions like apple, grape or sumac, just to name a few!
Would like to play around with some elderberry wine, but I’m thinking that may have to wait until next season. The purple webbed stems that were left behind after the berries were removed were beautiful, too — I’m wondering how they would dry and if they could be used in an artful nature project in some way….hmmmmm…..
Cheers to the abundance of free wild foods and taking the time to learn about them, and USE them!
What are some of your favorite ways/experiences with the Elderberries in your neck of the woods?