Monday, September 19, 2011

Elderberries

Today’s post is a guest post from Holly Bose at Your Gardening Friend.



In recent conversations, I've come to learn that not everyone knows what an elderberry is.  Had my mom not given us the experience of delicious homemade elderberry pies, and elderberry syrup, I too would not know of this tasty creation.

An elderberry is a very small, round, fruit berry with interior seeds. When I say it's a "small" berry, I mean REALLY small. An elderberry is between the size of a BB and a pea. The berries should not be eaten unless cooked (because of toxins), and, unlike most other berries, they require some sweetening.


The general parts of an elderberry bush are as follows:

       1. Roots
       2. Canes
       3. Lateral Branches
       4. Leaves
       5. Flowers (white)
       6 .Berry Clusters


Finding Elderberry Bushes
While you may find elderberry bushes in more than one type of setting, you're most likely to see them growing near the roadside, in ditches, along railroad tracks, and other similar locations, in wide open spaces with full sunlight.

Because these areas are not often mowed, you may find the elderberry bushes growing in the midst of other plants, weeds, and tall grasses. Even to the trained eye it can be a little challenging to spot them while driving 45-60 mph. The easiest way to find elderberry bushes is to look for them when they're in bloom. Come spring, specifically the month of May (at least for Indiana), the canopies of white blooms are a stark contrast against the surrounding greenery, and can be seen while driving down the road.
 
Harvesting Elderberries
After the flowers are pollinated, small green berries emerge.  As the berries mature, the green eventually turns into a medium purple, and the purple into a deep, dark, shiny purply-black color.  It is at this point the berries are ready for pickin', around mid-August to mid-September.

The best way to pick them is to break off the entire cluster of berries and place them in a clean plastic bag. Double-bagging is a good idea to make sure the branches don't puncture the plastic bag.

Once you get home, place the plastic bag of berries, including the branch stems, in the freezer. After the berries are frozen, take the entire bag and set it on the kitchen counter. Tap the bag on the counter numerous times. This will cause the frozen berries to break off the cluster. You can then place all the berries in a freezer storage bag until you're ready to make a pie. (My brother shared with me this method of removing the berries from the clusters.)


Because elderberries are an acidic fruit, canning them does not require the investment of a pressure canner/cooker. You need only a boiling pot.

Stay tuned for an upcoming elderberry pie recipe. Yummy!!!

Holly lives in Indiana with her husband and three canine children.  They live in the country, nestled in the woods, surrounded by nature.  She writes about gardening and her love of wildlife on her blog, Your Gardening Friend.

30 comments:

  1. Thanks for a truly informative post. We used to have elderberry bushes growing in the meadow of our farm (when I was a child... in the Dark Ages) and my mother impressed on us that they were poisonous. I wish I had known all of this then! Thanks so much!

    Great choice for a guest on your blog... I want that pie recipe though... hope she's back for part 2!

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  2. Can't wait for part 2! I recently transplanted an elderberry shrub to a front garden bed as they have lovely flowers in spring. Knew they were good for the birds to eat but had no idea we could eat them too!

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  3. Yes I love Elderberry juice but I never make it. The flowers are great for champagne or cordial but again I never make it. But I will make the pie so I look forward to the recipe, thanks I really enjoyed this:~)

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  4. Hi,

    Elder is quite widely known in the UK with elderberry flower cordial/juice being quite popular.

    We have large elders growing at the back of our garden because the insects love the blooms and the birds love the berries... I've never tried to make pie using the berries though; hmmm something to try out!

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  5. @Cathy and Steve Thanks, Cathy and Steve. Holly wrote a great post, and I am very glad you liked it.

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  6. @Marguerite Thanks, Marguerite. I have read they have immune system boosting properties as well.

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  7. @Foxglove Lane I am so glad you enjoyed the post. Holly did a great job. I am also looking forward to the pie recipe.

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  8. Well, I am certain they are around here - now I will have to look for them! Great tip about freezing them to get them off the stem!

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  9. @Liz That is so nice that you have it growing in the back of your garden. Thanks for visiting!

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  10. @HolleyGarden Thanks, Holley. I think that was a great tip by Holly as well. Thanks for stopping by.

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  11. My grandmother used to make elderberry wine- and gooseberry and rhubarb! Those were the days. i didn't know they grew here. Thank you.

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  12. Very informative! I never know about this plant or berries before!
    It's safe once cooked?

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  13. I forwarded this great article on to my produce-loving friends.

    Thanks! Great tip on freezing the berries!!
    Julie

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  14. I just popped in from YGF. Being a fruit pie loving person, I also look forward to Holly's recipe.

    By the way, I love your site and photos. Who knew basil was so beautiful?!

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  15. I always notice these in June when the lovely white blooms brighten the roadsides in NC and Tennessee. Your tip to harvest them is ingenious!

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  16. I had heard of elderberries but had never *knowingly* seen a bush before. An informative post. Now I want elderberry pie.

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  17. Thanks for such an informative post! Our small town actually has a little store that sells all kinds of elderberry products. My dad swears by the elderberry juice for its health benefits.

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  18. We have elderberries growing on our island in Maine. Aside from producing edible berries, about which your post was incredibly helpful, the shrubs are very ornamental especially when in bloom.

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  19. Great post.I learned quite a bit about this plant & how to remove the berries. Thanks.

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  20. I definitely do not know what an elderberry is. It looks delicious.

    I am familiar with mulberries. Over here, I grow mulberry and enjoy mulberry tea by drying the leaves first.

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  21. I've heard about Elderberries - but never have seen them in person. They're a beautiful color. I'll have to add them to my list of plants to try!

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  22. Over from YGF. I love elderberry syrup and pie. My mom used to make both. I used to heat up the syrup and put it on vanilla ice cream. I didn't know the berries were poisonous before cooked...what changes? I can now spot them in the spring when they're blooming and can remember my mom stopping by the side of the road to pick them :)

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  23. @Lancashire rose Your grandmother seems to have known a lot about elderberries. Thanks go to Holly for her excellent post.

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  24. @Malar Malar, I am glad you liked the post. I believe they are safe to eat when cooked, except for the red ones which should not be picked or eaten. Also, the twigs are not safe to eat.

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  25. @Wife, Mother, Gardener Thanks, Julie. I am so glad you liked this guest post.

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  26. @Amber Thanks, Amber. I appreciate you kind words. And I, too, am looking forward to Holly's pie recipe.

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  27. @tina Thanks, Tina. I am so glad Holly did the guest post on Elderberries.

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  28. @Sheila Read Thanks, Sheila. It seems we are all waiting for the pie.

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  29. This post brought back fond memories of the one time in my childhood when my mother made elderberry jam. I loved it, and it quickly became my favorite. Alas, she never made it again, saying that it was just too much work. I wonder if the frozen berry method could have persuaded her otherwise. -Jean

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  30. On Labor Day weekend, we went for a family bike ride down a country road and ran into an older man and woman picking elderberries, for "winter tonic," they said. They are plentiful here, but I always thought it was too much fuss to harvest enough for a pie. Maybe next year I'll remember the freezer method and give it a try!

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