Eureka! Elderberries!

“Your mother was a hamster and your father wreaked of elderberries”- Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  This line has been going through my mind all day as I harvested my elderberries.  We’ve been watching and patiently waiting for our elderberries to ripen and they’re finally ripe… you wreak-a

Our beautiful elderberries are finally ripe in our yard.

This is the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to pick elderberries(Sambucus canadensis) and make something with them.  In the past I always bought the Sambucal elderberry syrup at the health food store as a  flu and cold remedy.  I decided rather quickly that  I didn’t want to spend money on something I can easily grow myself.  About 2 years ago I planted 2 small elderberry plants that I bought from a local, native nursery.  Then I bought a “York” and a “Nova” variety of elderberry from Gurneys.  The Gurney’s elderberries came as two small sticks, so I’ll be waiting another year for elderberries from those.  However, my beautiful native elderberry bushes have given us lots and lots of berries this year. 

These are the two elderberry bushes I bought at the native nursery.

Elderberry bushes grow easily in zones 3-11.  They are drought tolerant and yet they don’t mind having “wet feet”. Pollination requires two plants.  They do need plenty of room because they send up suckers that spread easily.  I’ve read that they will grow 10-15 feet wide.  I plan to keep mine under control with pruning, although I’m looking forward to letting them go a little. We have the American elder growing all over Florida.  

Our chickens love the dense, cool shade under the elderberry bushes.

The elderberry flowers smell soooo good! They make a fabulous tea with health benefits as an added plus.

The elderberry flowers have risen to the top of my list as one of my absolute favorite flowers.  I found myself taking constant breaks to go out and smell them.  The blossoms can be dried in a dehydrator and stored in a bottle.  When you feel for elderberry blossom tea, you just add some of the dried blossoms to boiling water.  The blossoms can be used fresh too.  I prefer them fresh, but there is a short window of opportunity to enjoy them this way.  

The elderberry flowers fall off and are soon replaced by green berries which ripen to a deep purplish black berry.

Lots of ripe elderberries on our bush.

The ripe berries are so tempting to try fresh.  They smell good and look like they would be so sumptuously sweet… but they’re not.  I had to try a fresh one before it was cooked…  just had to.  I’m over it now.  They say some people get nauseous when they eat them raw, but I didn’t.  Maybe it would take more than one.  The raw berries contain alkaloids.  These alkaloids are destroyed when the berries are cooked. 

This is a wild elderberry growing on the side of a Florida road in Punta Gorda.

If you use wild elderberries, make sure you identify them correctly.  If the berries are red… stay away from them because they’re poisonous.  If you see thorns… run the other way.  Wild, edible elderberry bushes will not have thorns on them. 

A bag of ripe elderberries.

Picking elderberries off the stems.

Almost ready to cook... just a little more picking. We don't want any green ones in there.

I found a great recipe for elderberry syrup on YouTube from the Rose Mountain Herb Company .  I used it today to make my own elderberry syrups.  I made a small batch at first and followed his instructions exactly.  I wasn’t sure I was going to like it and I didn’t want to waste all my elderberries on a recipe I wasn’t sure of.  Well… we ended up going crazy over how good it was so I decided to make a huge batch of the syrup to keep in the fridge.  It will be so easy to make the kids a quick elderberry soda just by adding a bit of the syrup to some seltzer water.  I think  the syrup would be great over my homemade yogurt too. 

A bowl of ripe elderberries. I've always had it in my mind that I would make elderberry wine when I finally got my fresh berries. I realized today that it wouldn't be fair to my kids, so we made elderberry syrup. We can all enjoy the elderberries!

I always kept an elderberry concentrate in my fridge that I used constantly to jazz up my plain water.  I would just add a little bit to my glass.  This concentrate was usually hard to find and expensive.  I’m so glad I know how to make my own now.   I’m going to freeze some of the syrup in ice-cube trays. 

My very own, precious elderberry syrup.

We filled a cookie sheet with the fresh elderberries and dried them in the oven at 110 degrees.  They looked like mini raisins when they were done.  I’ll save these to add to some gluten-free muffins or make more syrup if I run out. 

My little helper put the elderberries on a cookie sheet so we could dry them in the oven at 110 degrees.

A cool glass of elderberry water flavored with ginger, cloves, cinnamon bark and honey. Delicious!

Come grow with us!

27 Responses to “Eureka! Elderberries!”

  1. Melinda Copper Says:

    and to think I thought it was just fine when the goats ate up the elderberry plants… I had thought the berries were just for the birds! Now I need to go on a wild elderberry hunt (not a problem) and get some of this to flavor my water kefir with – sounds perfect!!

  2. wow. this looks so awesome.

  3. 9bgardener Says:

    Thanks for this! I’ve grown elderberries for years in the landscape and never used them to full advantage. Next spring, it’s elderberry syrup! A variety I found years ago at Florida Native Plant Nursery in Sarasota develops a decided tree form, about 20′ with a single leader & beautiful deep grooved black bark. Fruit is good quality and it seems to send out fewer suckers than the shrubbier plants I’ve collected from the wild. Die-off of brittle older branches does require some maintenance, though.

    • I made so much elderberry syrup and thought I would have it in the fridge for awhile. It’s already gone… every bit. I went out to the trees to see if I had more berries to pick and was surpised to be able to fill another grocery bag. They are prolific, delicious and I absolutely love them! I’m going to go on a hunt for this variety you’re talking about. I will find them. Thanks!

  4. I am going to buy some trees!

  5. […] Elderberry HarvestElderberries will soon be ready to harvest: you could make syrup! About elderberries and their use: […]

  6. Joy McClure Says:

    Thanks for the info, I live in North Port just above Port Charlotte/Puntta Gorda. Relocating from Co and finding info on fruits that will grow here has been tough.

  7. I live in St.Petersburg and I wanted to grown my own elder berry and I couldn’t find a place. Finally I called Michael over at twigs and leaves and he has some there for a good price. I am going to pick some up this weekend. Thanks for sharing your blog.

  8. Hello!! I live about an hour southeast of Orlando and a friend is looking for Elderberries to make a tea. Do you know where I can tell her to look? Thank you!!

  9. May I use one picture of your elderberries for a post I am writing for my blog on I will give you credit for the picture.

  10. Margaret Hicks Says:

    Just discovered your website while searching elderberris. It is getting harder and harder to find them along roadsides. I live in East Orlando/UCF area. Anyone know of a place around here that I can pick. It may have come to the time when I have to grow my own. I always just used themfor jelly but you have given me many other options, expecially for cold/flu symptons, I don’t get colds often but to have asthama, maybe they will help this.

  11. I live in Southern Oregon and lately it seems as though there are more Elderberries growing along road sides than ever before.
    I used to go way up into the woods to pick them.
    It seemed as though there were more in the higher elevations.
    Not so much the case anymore.
    Years ago I planted 4 Adams and enjoyed huge harvests.
    A few years ago I added a “Black Beauty” to the family.
    That one single bush produces as much as the 4 Adams put together. What a joy this Beauty is.
    It also lives up to it’s name. It’s a thing of beauty when it’s in full bloom….so full of pink flowers.
    We’ve depended on these berries for years to keep flu and colds in check.

  12. Wendy Campbell Says:

    Just made syrup today, a favorite yearly ritual, and stumbled upon this site while researching the many benefits of elderberries. This is the most thorough and beautiful write-up I have ever seen on this precious plant. Thank you. Looking forward to reading more on your site, as we are a fellow homeschooling family.

  13. Very cool.

  14. Do they attract squirrels?

    • I can’t say that I’ve seen any squirrels going after the elderberries. But maybe they’re just that tricky. They’re always so many berries to harvest that if the squirrels are taking them I haven’t noticed.

  15. I purchased elderberry bushes from Creative Garden Structures in Weirsdsle, Fl just north of The Villages. This is their first year in the ground, but are looking beautiful. This nursery is all natives. Must see, very interesting.

  16. Several years ago, I asked your permission to use a couple of your pictures of elderberries on my blog. You graciously gave me permission. I downloaded 2 pictures but never used them. Now I am writing an article about elderberries and my memories of my mom making elderberry pie. It will be published in Ruby For Women, an online and in print magazine. I hope I still have permission to use the pictures. I will give you credit, of course. The other thing I wanted to tell you is: After being married for 36 years and then single for nearly twenty, I married a man in Jan 2017. Of all places, he lives in Punta Gorda, FL. Thanks, Gloria Doty

  17. After all these years, would you mind telling me how well your nova and York varieties are performing where you’re at? And what kind of planting conditions they are in? Thank you!

    • The York variety never did well for me. It stayed scrawny and always struggled until it finally gave up. I had it planted near my river bank, close to my other native, elderberry bushes. I had ordered this York variety from a catalog and I knew there was a good chance it wouldn’t do well in my zone.

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