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Elderberries are easy to grow and offer a plentiful harvest. But…they’re a bit tart and tangy compared to other berries; they're also small and have a bit of unexpected "crunch" to them, but don't let that stop you from making wonderful things with this late summer berry.
First, a word or two of caution - not all elderberry varieties are edible. If you find an elderberry bush on your property that you didn't plant please do your research to make sure it is an edible variety that is safe for you and your family. Sambucus Canadensis and Sambucus Nigra are the two most common varieties that are edible. In addition, raw elderberries can cause nausea if you eat a bunch of them. It is best to cook elderberry to neutralize the toxins and also bring out the flavor.
After three years of growing them on our homestead, our harvest is surprisingly large and we are still experimenting with ways to use them. Some we have tried, some are next on the list, but if you're wondering how to use your elderberries here are some places to start.
Boost your Immunity – elderberries have immune-boosting qualities that can help prevent colds, which is why you see so many elderberry supplements on the market these days. Each year, we make a few batches of elderberry syrup with our honey and some warm spices to help get us through the cold season. We make the first batch with fresh elderberries, then we save a few quarts of elderberries in the freezer for later batches.
Bake up a Storm - like many other berries, elderberries can be used to make scones (recipe coming soon!), pies, or muffins. They’re tiny, so you’ll need more of them, but that also makes them a fun option compared to other berries that can bust out of the baked good. Elderberries are also not as sweet as other berries so keep this in mind when you are baking – you could mix them with other berries, top with sugar, or just embrace the more sour nature of the berry and go for it by adding a bit of lemon zest!
Can 'em Up – grab your favorite canning recipe book and whip up a batch of elderberry jam or jelly, or combine the elderberries with other fruits for a multi-fruit version. We made what we
dubbed “elderblue” jam last year and the combination was delicious. You’ll find a variety of recipes for both freezer and canned varieties of elderberry preserves through a quick online search. It’s a dream on a freshly toasted English muffin!
Toast your Harvest with Delicious Cocktails (or Mocktails) – take the spices out of the syrup recipe above and you’ve got a nice elderberry syrup to flavor a homemade seltzer or soda or to make a delicious cocktail (we highly recommend a soda stream to make seltzer at home and add your own syrup!). Our Elderberry Elixer recipe (below) was a big hit at our annual Pie Party last year!
Try your Hand at Wine-Making – elderberry is a fruit that is commonly used to make wine. This recipe from The Wildcrafting Brewer (a book I’m hoping to pick up soon) describes how to make wine from about 4 pounds of elderberries. Be forwarned, this is a long-term project that takes up to a year to reach completion, and takes a little bit of equipment. But if you like it, you can make it year after year and end up with an ongoing supply.
Do you have other favorite ways to use elderberries???