"Don't Let Your Elderberries Get Any Older—Pick 'Em Now!" (A guest post by NANCY WEBSTER)
Elderberry picking season is almost here! Here's the short summary of how to get the right berries: Pick only clusters with purplish-black, filled-out berries. The green ones are not ready yet, and the shriveled ones are too far gone to be useful.
Take scissors and a bucket on your harvesting expedition, and snip the whole bunch where it joins to the bush. Be sure to leave a few berry clusters on the plant so more will grow next year. (Kids love going on this treasure hunt!)
The little stems are a pain to remove, but you need to do so because they contain a substance which turns to poisonous cyanide in your body if you eat them (although you’d have to eat a lot to get sick from it, so stay calm if a few slip through). And you have to get the berries cooled quickly, or they will go limp, so there’s not much time to lose once you get home from harvesting them. We don’t recommend throwing the whole works (stems and all) into the refrigerator (freezer is different—see below). The conglomeration will sweat, and later you'll spend hours trying to get everything separated.
If you dry the berries in a food dehydrator, you should be prepared to separate the stems from the berries immediately. We suggest working over large trays with edges to catch the runaway berries. Nimble fingers, patience, and sometimes a dinner fork make the job do-able. Here’s where many hands definitely make light work! Store the dried berries in mason jars in a dark, coolish place.
We’ve learned the easiest way to separate the berries from the stems is to pop the whole cluster into a zipper-top freezer bag, and throw it into the freezer. As long as the berries freeze, it doesn’t matter if you deal with them sooner or later.
Freezing the berries also has a medicinal benefit: The process bursts the cell walls so all the health benefits of the berries are available when you eat them (plain or in syrup or tincture form). When time comes to separate the berries from the stems, just remove a bunch or two at a time from the freezer, so they don’t start thawing and getting mushy before you can deal with them. Hold the bunch over a tray or wide bowl, and then use your thumb against your index and middle finger to strip the berries from the stems. It’s a quick and easy process.
If you’re fast, the berries remain frozen and you can re-bag (or jar) them and keep in the freezer to use whenever you want.
Toss frozen or dried elderberries into smoothies or on top of cereal. They have many tiny seeds that make them kind of crunchy, akin to a blackberry but not as sweet. Or make them into a tincture or syrup (see recipes below). Kids (and many grown-ups!) tend to prefer the syrup, which can also be used to top pancakes, swirl over ice cream, or mix with selzer.
From the testimony of countless others over the years plus our own family’s successful use, we highly recommend the natural, medicinal, immune-boosting benefits of elderberries and mixtures made from them.
RECIPE FOR ELDERBERRY SYRUP
You can get a lot of health benefits from a syrup made from just elderberries, raw honey, and water prepared as below. If you add the other ingredients, the syrup will be even healthier—and tastier. But don’t let not having the extras stop you from making and using the syrup!
(HINT: A jar of homemade elderberry syrup
makes a lovely, useful gift for family and friends,
so make a big batch!)
• 1 cup elderberries (dried, fresh, or thawed-from-frozen)
• 2 cups filtered water (use 4 cups water if using dried berries)
• 4 quarter-inch slices unpeeled, fresh ginger (to taste)
• 3 whole Chinese star anise (these are used in flu anti-viral meds)
• ½ cup dried Echinacea*
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 5 whole cloves
• 1 cup raw** honey
1) Add everything except honey to medium saucepan.
2) Boil, then lower heat to medium.
3) Simmer (with lid askew) 30 to 45 minutes to reduce liquid to half.
4) While still warm, strain through fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
5) Let cool to 110 degrees or less (measure it!) to preserve enzymes in the honey.
6) Whisk honey into berry liquid.
7) Cool, pour in sterile jar, keep in fridge up to two months. (Freeze extra. When you want to use it, let it thaw in the refrigerator.)
*If you include Echinacea, take a week or so-long break from this syrup after every two or so weeks of daily ingestion.
**The use of RAW honey is vital for the health benefits of this syrup! Raw honey has never been heated and contains beneficial bits of beeswax, pollen, propolis, and enzymes which heat processing and filtering remove. Do NOT give honey to children one-year-old or younger!
For best results take between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon daily, especially during cold and flu season (summer is the time to prepare for winter). If you notice symptoms of sickness coming on, hit them fast with this amount every hour (and don’t eat processed sugar or flour products, which reduce your immune ability).
RECIPE FOR ELDERBERRY TINCTURE
Do you travel a lot or have limited refrigerator space? Then make a shelf-stable tincture instead of refrigerator-dependent syrup. It’s easy and requires no cooking. All you must have are elderberries and 100 proof vodka, but you can add to healthfulness by adding the syrup recipe extras as well (except do NOT use honey or water!).
Use a sterilized (important!), glass jar with a tight lid. Fill jar about half-way with ingredients. There’s no perfect recipe—just shoot for a similar ratio as in the syrup. If using fresh or thawed frozen berries, cover with a little less vodka than if using dried berries. Tightly cap and stick in an often-used kitchen cabinet (so you don’t forget it). For six weeks, give the jar a good shake every few days. Then strain out the solids and keep the liquid tincture. Stores for up to several years in a cool place.
Usage amount: Take 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per day. If symptoms of sickness start, take the tincture every 2 to 3 hours. Can be taken straight or with water added. Not recommended for infants, and use sparingly with small children.