Friday, September 6, 2013

Three ways with elderberries

A friend gifted me a large bag of fresh elderberries from his tree. I'd heard of them before, and I enjoy St. Germain, the elderflower liqueur, but I didn't realize that elder bushes grow in North America, let alone in the Bay Area, let alone that people still use them! Silly me.

Turns out, elderberry is a folk remedy for cold and flu and is full of antioxidants and other immune-boosting compounds. Check out what the University of Maryland Medical Center has to say about it. I'm always interested in powering-up my immune system, especially this time of year. After last year's great success with medicinal mushrooms, a gifted bag of elderberries is an awesome chance to try out new medicine. Elderberry syrup is not inexpensive at health food stores or, but it is so easy to make.

The berries have a pleasant, herbal, floral flavor. They can be a little tart and bitter so I used more sugar than I would with other berry preserves. It is important to thoroughly de-stem the elderberries. I did this with my hands, outside, since the berries roll everywhere and they stain. I hear a wide-tooth comb works, too. Then I soaked the berries in a large bowl of cold water. Dried flowers, bugs, and other debris floated to the surface and I poured that off or skimmed it with a spoon. But it doesn't have to be perfect because we're going to strain most of it through cheesecloth, anyway.

Boozy Berries or Elderberry Tincture

Fill a jar with clean, de-stemmed elderberries.
Cover with vodka.
Keep in a cool, dark place for several weeks. Shake a few times a day. Then strain the berries out, discard, and store the liquid in a clean jar in a dark place.

I expect I will use this in hot toddies.

For the next recipes, prepare to do some water bath canning. If you are unfamiliar, read up here.

Elderberry Jam
makes 1 1/2 cups

4 cups elderberries
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Toss the elderberries and sugar in a bowl, cover, and allow to macerate in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, prepare the water bath and sterilize the jars.

In a large saute pan, heat the berry/sugar mixture until boiling. Simmer until the berries soften and break down, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for sweetness. My jam is quite tart; you may prefer to add more sugar. Add lemon juice and cook for 10-15 minutes. Test for doneness.

Ladle the jam into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rims and affix the lids.

Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

This jam is very seedy, but the seeds add a tangy, bitter crunch that isn't entirely unpleasant. If I don't grow to like it more, I will remove some of the seeds when I use this with meats or cheeses. Next time, I may not make elderberry jam at all and stick with syrup or jelly. Do you always remove the elderberry seeds?

Elderberry Syrup
makes 4 pints

9 cups elderberries
4 cups water
4 cups sugar 
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Prepare the water bath and sterilize the jars and lids.

Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, then simmer for 30 minutes, until the berries are soft. Allow to cool slightly, then strain the berry pulp through 2 layers of cheesecloth. Discard the pulp.

Heat the syrup again and simmer for another 20-30 minutes, until thickened.

Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, wipe the rims, affix the lids, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

This syrup is very sweet and delicious: herbal, floral, and jammy. This elderberry syrup will be good on pancakes, in cocktails, with sparkling water for a spritzer, or on yogurt or oatmeal in the morning.

With inspiration from:
Herbin' Mama
Common Sense Homesteading
Frugally Sustainable

And a reminder: I am not a doctor, herbalist, or nutritionist. All this information is just for fun. I wish you good health.

Shared with From the Farm Blog Hop and Tuned-in Tuesday Blog Hop 


  1. Thank you for the info and recipes. Would love to try making all of them...I do buy Elderberry jam and juice and like you said..."it is not inexpensive".
    I would love to know if you have any info on where I can purchase Elderberries, whether fresh or frozen (I've heard I can use frozen for recipes like jam or juice.
    Any info would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Lynn,

      I can't recommend a particular supplier of elderberries, but I have read that fresh, frozen or dried are good for cooking with. I'm sure you can find a good source online.

      I recently found this recipe for Elderberry Elixir that I'd like to try.

  2. the elderberry seeds contain glycosides that can produce nausea in some sensitive people. most folks are fine with ingesting the seeds as long as they are in their whole state. grinding them would definitely release the harmful glycosides. Sambucus racemosa ( the red berried )that grows wild in the pacific NW of the US can not be used unless it is cooked and the seeds strained out. Please be cautious with your identification of this species. thank you for the lovely recipes.

    1. Thank you for the information. I think I prefer elderberry preserves seedless, anyway.

  3. Lynn, Mountain Rose Herbs has elderberries on sale this month for $10 for 1 pound and they are organic! You can use these to make tinctures and a cough syrup too. They also have an amazing yummy recipe for the cough syrup on there website as well. Good luck!

  4. Any chance your friend knows where /if they grow wild? I had no idea they grew in the bay area and I'm from Berkeley!

    1. Hi Erin, my friend has a bush in his backyard. I bet if you walk/ask around, you can find some.


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