Few plants have received more attention than the elderberry plant. Archeologists found elderberry seeds that are 9 000 years old. Elderberries have been used by the Plains Indians and were mentioned by Pliny the Elder, Roman naturalist and philosopher, in 200 AD. 

My grandmother used to say: “Bow before Chamomile but kneel before the elderberry.” 

Elderberry can be used as food as well as herbal medicine. Native Americans enjoyed dried elderberries mixed with dried bison meat, one of the world’s earliest snacks. Elderberry is an ancient folk remedy that has gained popularity in our times for its culinary uses and as an effective medicine to fight colds and flu. Elderberries are rich in antioxidants known as flavonoids and are commonly used in allopathic pharmaceutical cough syrups. The elderberry bush goes from fragrant flowers that can be made into a tasty syrup (recipe here) to dark purple berries that are ready to pick in our region in mid to late August. Elderberry bushes are found along at the edge of wooded areas, along the roads, ditches, and trails, in partial sun and shade. You can establish your own elderberry bush in your backyard and harvest fruit in about three years. Because of its popularity, elderberry syrups are now available for purchase in health food stores or at local markets, but the homemade syrup is much more affordable. Elderberries can be made into juice, homemade lozenges, jams, jellies, and even wines. 

hands holding bunches of elderberries

Elderberry bushes are very prolific in our region, can be easily grown in a backyard, foraged, or could also be purchased from local farmers’ markets. (Image courtesy of Green Gate Family Farm). 

Elderberry plants

Once the right plant is established, wait until 95% of the berry clusters turn black or very dark blue. Like most herbs, fruits, and vegetables, they are best harvested in the morning, before the sun reduces their moisture content. Pay close attention when the berries begin to ripen because you are in competition with all the birds. You can harvest two to three times every few days.  

bunches of elderberries sitting in a basket on a counter

To harvest, use pruning shears to snip the entire bunch of ripe elderberries. Each cluster contains hundreds of berries. The process works the best if the juice is made the same day as picked, but berries can be refrigerated for a couple of days prior, if necessary. Unlike when making fruit jam, there is no pectin needed, which is destroyed by refrigeration. 

elderberry bunches in boxes at a farmers market

Elderberry fruit can be purchased at the farmers’ market. 

hands picking the elderberries off the stem into a bowl

To destem, with your fingers, pick only the ripest berries and discard all the green and reddish ones. 

pans filled with elderberries on a counter

Elderberry Juice

Warning: Elderberries must be cooked prior to consumption. They are mildly toxic in their raw state.  

Ingredients

Adjust quantity depending on the amount of berries available

2 lb elderberries removed from stems

1.5 lb caster sugar 

2 Tbs ascorbic acid or juice from 3 lemons 

1 quart of water 

Optional extra ingredients

Sliced ginger

5 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

Lemon rind 

bowl of elderberries sitting on a scale

Weigh ingredients and adjust your recipe rations based on the amount of berries you were able to gather. 

berries cooking in a pan

Place berries in a heavy pan and cook until berries soften (about 15 minutes after they start to boil). 

cooked berries being strained

Strain the berries using a standard strainer or a juicer. The seeds from the berries are a nuisance. 

cooked berries going through a juicer

A juicer works best to remove the seeds and proves berries quickly.

juice being cooked in a pan

Return the pure elderberry juice back to the cooking pot and add sugar, ascorbic acid or lemon juice, and all spices (if using) and cook for about 15 minutes more. 

filling bottles with juice

Once the syrup has been cooked, let it cool a little and fill into clean bottles. Store in the refrigerator. Refrigerated juice keeps for about six months.  

iced drink with a straw and a jar of elderberry juide sitting on a counter

Juice can be diluted with either hot or cold water or club soda as a refreshing yet healthy summer drink. 

Disclaimer:

Information contained here is not intended to treat or cure any diseases or provide medical advice.

Magda Born

mborn@kckpl.org

Community Services Librarian

Kansas City, Kansas Public Library

625 Minnesota Ave.

Kansas City, KS 66101

913-295-8250 ext 1103

Resources: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848651/

https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/elderberry

https://www.ediblewildfood.com/elderberry.aspx

https://www.herbsociety.org/

Resources: 

book cover - the elderberry book

The Elderberry Book by John Moody

Format: HOOPLA E BOOK

book cover - everything elderberry

Everything Elderberry by Susannah Shmurak

Format: HOOPLA E BOOK

book cover - master recipes from the herbal apothecary

Master recipes from the herbal apothecary: 375 tinctures, salves, teas, capsules, oils, and washes for whole body health and wellness  by J. J. Pursell and Shawn Linehan

Book Call Number: 615.321 PURSELL