Elder: We are slightly obsessed with this wonderful specimen of a tree/shrub. The incredible versatility of its flowers and berries is constantly astounding us. In spring we explored how the frothy, delicious flowers can be used in a whole manner of ways. Well, now is the time to go out and gather another generous bounty the wondrous Elder offers up in autumn – it’s elderberry season!
Sure, they are bitter to taste and slightly poisonous unless cooked but don’t be scared off, once simmered down into a surprisingly rich and complex sweet syrup, this underrated wild berry turns into an incredibly effective flu-fighting antidote that does not mess around.
Loaded with Vitamin A and B, overflowing with more Vitamin C than tomatoes or oranges, and lashings of other mighty good stuff, elderberries have been curing a myriad of ailments for centuries.
So if you have an abundance nearby, get picking as the season is extremely short!
Seasonal period: Late summer to mid autumn
Where to find them: Hedgerows, woodland, wasteland, streams and canals
How to recognise: The deciduous tree/shrub is a rather untidy, many-stemmed, that can grow up to 10m tall. It has arching branches with corky bark that is grey-white in colour. The leaves are pinnate with 5-9 leaflets per leaf and ovate with saw-toothed margin and prominent midribs. In spring it has flat, frothy, creamy-white blossom followed by clusters of small redish-black berries in the late summer, and as they ripen turn blackish -purple from the end of August.
What to eat: Be sure to only harvest the fruit that is deep purple in colour and juicy when squashed. NO green berries!
Harvesting: Simply cut the entire bunch of berries from the bush and remove the individual berries from the stem when you get home.
Cleaning and storing: It can rather messy and tedious to remove the elderberries from the branches but there are a couple of tricks to make it less so:
- Use the prongs of a fork to gently strip them off.
- Gently tap the cluster on the inside of a bowl and all the ripe berries will just fall off the stem into the bowl.
Once all the elderberries are removed from the stems, place them in a bowl or sink and rinse with water to remove all the little bugs or dried flower heads.
Cooking: One of the most important things to remember about elderberries is to never eat them raw. Simmer them down with water for 30 -45 minutes into a delicious, rich syrup. This can be used as a flu fighting tonic, drizzled on pancakes or ice cream, infused in vinegar, added to pies or creamy desserts, use as a sorbet base or a rich sauce for wild meat. You can also ferment the berries and make a delicious wine or dry and use to make a flavourful tea.
Medicinal uses: The use of elderberry for medicinal uses stretches back to Roman times and has a long history as being an extremely effective immune booster and remedy for treating upper respiratory infections and fever. Elderberries are rich in flavonoids which are natural compounds with antioxidant qualities that protects cells against damage or infections. The berries also contains vitamin A, B, significant amounts of vitamin C and amino acids. They can lower cholesterol, improve vision and heart health and assist with assist with weight loss efforts.
Know hazards: NEVER eat raw berries. Always cook or dry them before use. As with all wild food, go easy at first and make sure you are not allergic to it. Do NOT use the syrup if you are, or may possibly, be pregnant. Always discuss with a health care provider before giving the homemade elderberry syrup to children, and do NOT give to infants under 1.
Responsible foraging: Unless you are 100% sure of what it is and 100% sure that it is edible, DON’T EAT IT! Harvest only what you need from large, healthy tree/shrub. Simply snip the berry clusters at the first joint so you avoid damaging the populations. Consider pesticides, herbicides, pollutions and dog pee. Think about all that could, might and will have drifted onto your plants and pick wisely.
Homemade Elderberry Syrup
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