“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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Come grow with us!