Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - Dec. 1,
Elderberries in paradise By Karen Mitchell Tremmel
Tis the season for cool moonlight walks, making freshly squeezed Florida
orange juice, shopping for Christmas bargains, tending overrun gardens, getting out
my Southern Living cookbooks and going berry picking.
When I was a young girl, my mother would send my brother and I out with a bucket to
collect wild berries. With an ample lunch, to keep us from eating all the berries,
wed spend the day on the side of the mountain enjoying nature and picking
berries. With red stained fingers we dreamed of elderberry jam and fritters for
breakfast. Luscious elderberries hang ripe in bunches thick on undeveloped lands just
waiting to please the palate as elderberry wine or elderberry jam.
Elder (Sambucus canadensis) is a fast growing shrub usually 3- to 13-feet tall
rarely reaching tree size. It is often seen along fence rows and ditches, parks,
undeveloped lands, floodplains or rich soil and stream banks. It is native from
southeastern Canada to most of the United States except for the Great Basin and the
Pacific Northwest. Elderberry wine and jelly are relished in many parts of the
The ripe fruit, usually purple-black, occurs in drooping bunches hanging from red
stalks. These sweet juicy berries are traditionally gathered and made into elderberry
wine, jam, syrup, and pies. The flowers also can be eaten.
Edible berries and flowers are used for medicine, dyes for basketry, arrow shafts,
flute, whistles, clapper sticks, and folk medicine. Elderberry flowers, small, white,
fragrant, in flat cymes, numerous, 0.15-0.25 inch in diameter clusters, contain
flavenoids and rutin, which are known to improve immune function, particularly in
combination with vitamin C.
Elderberries are also an important source of summer and fall food for a variety of
mammals and birds, including turkeys, deer and more than 50 species of song birds. As
birds and wild animals enjoy elderberries they help to distribute the seeds. Bears
love to eat the elderberry fruits while deer, elk, and moose, squirrels and rodents
browse on the stems and foliage.
The red berries of other elderberry species are toxic and should not be gathered. As
with gathering any plant in the wild, if youre unsure that you can identify a
plant in the wild, seek the advice of a professionally trained botanist to verify the
identification. Though wine is made from the fruits of some species, others, such as
the Pacific red elder (Sambucus callicarpa) have inedible or even poisonous fruit.
Fruits from related species that are red, unripe fruits, leaves and other parts of
the plant may be dangerously purgative and should not be ingested. The active
alkaloids in elderberry plants are hydrocyanic acid and sambucine. Both alkaloids
will cause nausea so care should be observed with this plant.
Please note that for safety reasons DO NOT use the leaves, bark or roots of Elder
for consumption as some reports claim these parts may be poisonous.
Elderberry can be confused with a violently toxic plant called water hemlock (Cicuta
mexicana). These two plants are very similar, but cautious attention to detail can be
used to separate their identities. Stems of water hemlock have purple stripes and
when cut in half, reveal hollow piths. The elderberry stem has a uniform, white to
light gray pith in cross section and the foliage has a rank, acrid odor when crushed.
Elderberry leaves are oppositely arranged but water hemlock leaves are alternate.
Both elderberry and water hemlock are pinnately compound. Both grow in moist or wet
habitats. You must use caution when identifying these plants.
Avoid touching water hemlock!
(Source: University of Florida, www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4h/Elderberry/elderber.htm, Nov. 29, 2004)
Here are some of my mothers favorite recipes.
Basic elderberry wine
4 pounds elderberries
1 gallon of boiling water
3 pounds of granulated sugar
A claret yeast sachet
8 oz. chopped raisins
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange
1 vitamin B tablet
1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient
Strip the berries from the umbrellas into a suitably large primary fermentation
vessel with a fork. Add 8 oz. chopped raisins, juice of the lemon, juice of the
orange, a vitamin B tablet and a teaspoon of yeast nutrient. Add the boiling water
and stir well. When cool enough to handle, squeeze fruit with hands to extract juice.
Leave for one day to infuse. Add 2 1/2 lbs. sugar and activated yeast and leave
covered for three days. Strain off liquid into demijohns, top up with another 1/4 lb.
of sugar in each and, if necessary, with cooled boiled water. Leave to ferment in a
warm (65 to 75 degrees), dark place. Rack off the lees into a clean demijohn when
bubbling has subsided. Rack again six weeks later. Bottle in dark green bottles when
wine is clear (I use a desk lamp to shine through from the other side) and there has
been no activity for some time. Mature for at least six months before drinking.
Elderberry grape jelly
3 pounds elderberries
3 pounds half-ripe grapes
Sugar to taste
Wash elderberries. Remove stems. Cover with water. Cook until soft. Drain through
jelly bag. Wash grapes. Remove stems. Cover with water, cook until soft. Drain
through jelly bag. Combine elderberry and grape juice in equal proportions. Add about
three-quarters cup sugar to each cup of juice. Boil rapidly until jelly sheets from
Karen can be reached at MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.