My first experience with elderberries came when my husband and I moved to the country to build our first home. We purchased land that was pretty much untouched as far as wild edibles went. My mom, a natural forager, went with me to take a look at the land. “You have a paradise here,” she said. Mom pointed out a copse of elderberry bushes along the side of our property. That summer and for years after, we made batch after batch of beautiful, tasty elderberry jelly. I was hooked on this gift from Mother Nature.
The common, edible, elderberry bushes are Sambucus Canadensis and Sambucus Nigra, also known as American elderberry and black elderberry. But these dark purple berries go beyond the kitchen. Elderberry syrup and tea are healthful, natural, and might I say yummy medicines.
Easy To Grow
Elderberries are so easy to grow that you may find volunteers sprouting. Elderberries will tolerate many growing conditions. And if you’re looking for flowers that attract bees, elderberry is a bee magnet.
Even a small patch of elderberry bushes provides shelter for small animals. Birds are constant visitors, but keep in mind that deer like them too.
Not All Parts Are Edible!
Elderberry flowers are on my edible flowers list, and fritters, cordials, and liqueurs made from flowers are a gourmet treat. Berries should be eaten when fully ripe and not eaten raw. Roots, stems, and leaves are toxic and should not be eaten.
Use Scissors to Harvest
Elderberry fruit will hang heavy on the stem when ripe. Snip the entire cluster. We use our gloved hands (to prevent staining) to “rake” berries from stems.
I’m sharing my favorite elderberry recipes and hope you find them as delicious, and useful, as I do.
Jelly is at the top of the list when it comes to using elderberries. This recipe makes about five eight-ounce jars
- 3 cups prepared juice (3 pounds ripe elderberries)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 box dry fruit pectin, 1.75 oz.
- 4-1/2 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl
- Remove and discard large stems from elderberries. Place stemmed berries in the pan. Crush the fruit.
- Cook on medium heat until juice starts to flow, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Pour into a jelly bag. Hang and let drip into bowl until dripping stops. Press gently to exude juice.
- Sterilize jars and keep them hot.
- Pour boiling water over flat lids and rings in pan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use.
- Measure exactly 3 cups prepared juice into 8-quart pan or jelly pan. (If necessary, add up to 1/2 cup water for exact measure.)
- Stir in lemon juice.
- Stir pectin into juice. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down) on high heat, stirring constantly.
- Stir in sugar. Return to a full rolling boil and boil exactly one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
- Skim off any foam with metal spoon.
- Ladle immediately into hot, sterile jars, filling to within a quarter of an inch of tops. Wipe rim of the jar with a wet cloth to remove any traces of jelly, which may prevent a proper seal. Cover with lids and screw bands on tightly.
- Turn upside down on the counter for five minutes to remove any bacteria that may be on the inside lid.
- Place upright to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing the middle of the lid with finger. (If lid springs back, it’s not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)
- Store in pantry up to a year. If you decide to make elderberry jam instead of jelly, you may wonder just how long does jam last. No worries, same as jelly — up to a year.
Elderberry jelly sometimes takes a while to set. It may set right away or take up to a week.
Elderflower Cordial is sometimes called elderflower syrup. The citric acid/fruit protector acts as a preservative. This is non-alcoholic and can sub in for elderflower liqueur in recipes.
- 25 to 30 elderflowers
- 1-1/2 quarts water
- 2 pounds cane sugar
- 3 tablespoons citric acid or produce protector, like Ball’s Fruit Fresh (optional)
- 2 each organic lemons and oranges, sliced thick
- If necessary, rinse elderflowers gently and drain.
- Place water and sugar together in a pan. Bring to a boil. Let cool.
- Stir in the produce protector, lemons, oranges, and flowers. Stir to combine.
- Cover with a cloth and let infuse on the counter for one to two days, stirring occasionally.
- Strain through cheesecloth or a fine strainer (you may have to do this a couple of times to clarify cordial) and pour into sterilized jars or bottles.
- Store in refrigerator up to six months or freeze for one year.
Serve in small cordial glasses
For a dinner cordial, I like to serve in cordial/liqueur glasses straight up.
It’s also delicious with a splash of sparkling wine or champagne or stirred into a chilled glass of staghorn sumac lemonade.
Give credit to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry for giving this venerable liqueur a popularity boost. It was one of the ingredients in their wedding cake. This liqueur is expensive to buy but budget-friendly to make.
- 20 large elderflowers
- Zest of 1 large lemon
- 1 liter vodka
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup extra fine granulated sugar
- If necessary, gently rinse and drain elderflowers. Snip flowers from thick stems, leaving only thin stems attached to the flowers.
- Place in a large sterilized jar.
- Add lemon zest and vodka. Vodka should completely cover the flowers and zest. This keeps the flowers from turning brown. (I like to crumple a piece of parchment on top of the mixture to keep everything under the vodka and zest).
- Let infuse in a cool place away from light for two to four weeks.
- Place water and sugar in a pan. Bring to a boil to dissolve sugar. Let cool.
- Strain infusion through cheesecloth or fine strainer.
(You may have to do this a couple of time to clarify the infusion).
- Stir in half the sugar syrup and taste. Add more if you like. I add all of the syrup.
- Pour into sterilized jars or bottles.
- Let mature in a cool place away from light for at least two months or a bit less.
- Store in pantry up to a year.
Adapted slightly from tales from the kitchen shed site.
Serve straight up or add to drinks and recipes.
You can use either flowers or berries. I like fresh berries for the color and taste they impart.
Ingredients and Instructions
- For every 8 ounces of boiling water, use about 2 tablespoons fresh berries or 1 tablespoon dried berries.
- Honey or sweetener to taste
- Pinch cinnamon (optional)
- Let steep 10 minutes or so. Strain. Enjoy hot or cold.
Benefits of Elderberry Tea
- Your body absorbs liquids faster than solids, so this tea is good for a lagging appetite.
- The tea hydrates and may shorten the duration and severity of colds and flu.
Medicinal Elderberry Syrup from Berries
Rosemary Gladstar and I met when we both presented at a conference. Rosemary talked about winter ills and natural ways to cure them. Elderberry syrup is one of her recommended medicines. It’s an effective natural cold remedy and can also be used for flu and upper respiratory ailments. It tastes yummy!
- 2 cups fresh ripe elderberries or 3/4 cup dried berries
- 4 cups water
- 1-inch piece smashed ginger root
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- Organic raw honey to taste
- Bring everything but honey to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until reduced by half.
- Pour through a strainer, cool to room temperature and add honey.
- Store in refrigerator up to three months or freeze up to six months.
Standard Dose for Adults
Enjoy a tablespoon daily to keep the immune system strong. At the onset of a cold or flu, I’ll take a tablespoon every four hours.
Standard Dose for Children at the Onset of Cold or Flu
It’s recommended to take a half to one teaspoon every four hours.
More Health Benefits of Elderberries
Along with vitamins and minerals, elderberries provide these medicinal perks:
- Digestion aid, high in fiber.
- Heart healthy.
- Expectorant, soothing.
- Antibacterial, anti-infectious.
- Good for sore muscles and arthritis.
Do you have elderberries? What are your favorite ways to use them?