Where the elderberries grow
Every year at about the time of our anniversary, Josh and I scope out where the delicate lacey blooms of the elderberry tree are plentiful. They often grow along the road or beside vacant houses. You’ll basically find them anywhere a bird might find a snack and poop out some elderberry seeds.
You have to be careful that you can recognize elderberries, as some of their cousins, such as dogwood or virginia creeper, get berries that could look the same to the untrained eye, and are poisonous.
Alternately, you can buy dried elderberries from most herb or health food sites. If you’re not sure what is or isn’t an elderberry, definitely go this route.
Benefits of Elderberry Syrup
You might not be sure why you should about elderberries. These dark purple little berries have been used for centuries to protect from colds and the flu. Modern science is now proving what folk lore touted, too! Science has proven that elderberries have anti-viral properties, and that their high anti-oxidant and polyphenol content help boost the immune system. One study showed that patients taking elderberry syrup had flu symptoms shortened by 4 days compared to the placebo group. Another Australian study showed that travelers who took elderberry syrup before travelling were less likely to catch a cold on the flight, and if they did, it was less severe and shorter duration than those who didn’t take elderberry syrup. Elderberry syrup may be an easy way to decrease the odds of someone coming down with a cold on your winter vacation to Disney World.
Precautions to be aware of when making elderberry syrup
So, now that you know why you care about elderberries and you’re gung ho to make some yourself, there are some precautions that you MUST be aware of before starting.
1. As I mentioned before, many poisonous wild berries could be confused for elderberry. Make sure that you can properly identify elderberry if you’re going to pick your own.
2. The sticks and stems of elderberry contain a type of cyanide. This means that you need to properly remove all the stems from your berries before making syrup. The berries grow in a large cluster with tiny little stems, sort of like a grape stem. It takes quite a while to destem even a small amount of elderberries. It’s the most labor intensive part of the whole process.
3. The berries also contain cyanide, so they should be cooked before being eaten to deactivate the hydrocyanic acid. Also, pick out all the unripe berries. (If you’ve ever tried a raw elderberry, it’s not a problem waiting until their cooked. They have a very bitter, almost metallic taste. It’s hard to believe that a berry so unappetizing can make such a delicious syrup or wine.)
Alright, the fine print is out of the way, and it’s pretty benign compared to some of the side effects listed on some drug commercials, so don’t let it scare you!
Benefits of Rosehips
Rosehips are another key ingredient in this syrup. Hey, if elderberries are good for you, they can only get better when they’re combined with other immune boosting compounds, right? Rosehips are an excellent source of vitamin C, and have been used as an immune booster to help the body fight foreign invaders. They also have some anti-inflammatory properites, as well, which is why they’re used as in treatment of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. (Some studies have shown that rosehips decrease blood levels of CReactive Protein – a culprit contributing to many autoimmune and metabolic diseases.)
If you’re into wild crafting, you can find wild rose hips easy enough. Watch around mid-june for wild roses. You can let your nose lead the way! They usually grow in groups on wild land, and they make the air heavy with their rich aroma. Mark where you found the bush, because you’ll have to come back in the fall to get the rosehips.
The rose hip is the seed pod that is left in the fall after all the flower petals are gone. We have a few wild rose bushes in our yard, and we try to gather them after the first frost. The frost makes them a bit sweeter, I’ve read. If you’re not into traipsing through the brambles in search of rosehips, they’re readily available at health food stores and amazon.
Juicing the elderberries
After carefully destemming the elderberries into a tub of coldwater, we skimmed the unripe berries and any other unwanted things off the top of the water. The ripe berries generally sank, while the unripe berries, little pieces of twigs, or any unlucky little creatures usually floated.
Most recipes call for dried berries boiled in water, but we decided to use actual elderberry juice extracted from the berries with a squeeze-o-strainer. I think this method is the best way to go to get all the goodness from the elderberries, but it’s considerably more work than using dried berries and boiling them in water (and you won’t find fresh elderberries anywhere this time of year.)
Our first attempt to juice the berries was using our old cast iron enterprise wine press and sausage stuffer. The elderberries are so small and firm that it just didn’t squish very many of them. Our second attempt was to use a food mill, which also produced lackluster results.
Our third attempt with the squeeze-o-strainer worked wonderfully. Just a heads up, though. Elderberry seeds are full of some sort of REALLY, REALLY STICKY STUFF. We had a hard time getting the squeeze-o-strainer cleaned up.
And Finally…..The Elderberry and Rosehip Syrup Recipe!
- 3 cups elderberry juice or 1/2 cup dried elderberries + 3 cups water
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- 1 Tablespoon of fresh ginger, chopped
- 1 Teaspoon of cloves, crushed
- 1/4 cup dried rosehips or 3/4 cup fresh rosehips
- 1 Cup BLB Raw Honey
- Add all ingredients EXCEPT THE HONEY to the pot.
- Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool to room temp.
- Pour contents of pot through a strainer to remove ginger, cloves, rosehips, (and dried elderberries if using)
- Add honey to juice and mix well.
- Keep refrigerated for up to 6 months, or freeze to use at a later time.
If you’re looking to purchase supplies for elderberry syrup, check out Starwest Botanicals or Atlantic Spice Company for dried elderberries. If you’re looking for an all in one kit, try pairing Alex’s Elderberries with some raw BLB honey!
This elderberry syrup is really tasty, and I feel like it’s helped me over the hump with a few colds now. I highly recommend it!
Have you ever wildcrafted any recipes or made elderberry syrup before? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!