Elderberry Elixir

I was completely caught off guard when I was out foraging earlier in the week, and noticed the elderberries were ripe. I suppose that intellectually, I knew it was that time of year. But the swiftness with which the seasons have progressed is rather astonishing. I'm told this is a side effect of age.

Elderberries go from perfectly ripe to having dropped off the plant in a matter of days here.  So I called my foraging buddy from Formation of a Foodie into action.  You've gotta love a gal who is willing to pick elderberries with you in the rain, to get soaked by pulled elder branches and wet grass, and taunted by nearby schoolchildren, hey blue coat, why are you stealing those leaves!  Not terribly observant, those little shits kids.  But in good company, every foraging trip is fun.  And with three bags of ripe blue-purple elderberries in hand, we headed home and celebrated with tea and a nice hot lunch.

Now, you might suppose that it would be my first matter of business, after carefully stripping the berries from the stems (which can be toxic), to have a whole slew of elderberry recipes ready to go.  After all, elderberries are delicious when cooked; some even equate their taste to port.  However, my top priority with elderberries is to turn them into valuable medicine to help keep my circle of loved ones healthy during cold and flu season.

I don't speak of it much here, but as time has progressed, and I've delved deeper into the world of foraging, it has been very natural for me to start learning about the medicinal properties of the same common local plants that I work with every day.  After all, every food is also medicine.  And many of the same weeds that I've cooked with for years also have powerful medicinal properties.  You can see how it's a logical progression to start incorporating these plants into my medicine chest; it just makes good sense.

I've used rose to soothe my sunburns, I've learned how to use nettle to boost my iron, I've used spruce pitch to draw out splinters.  But by a wide margin, the homemade medicine that I've used most is elderberry elixir.  Last summer, I collected eight pounds of elderberries, thinking that was more than enough to get me through the cold season.  Turns out that I gave away so many bottles of elderberry elixir, that I went through every last one of those berries.  And it makes sense, as most every family has at least one encounter with a virus at some point in the winter.

My experience with elderberry elixir has been excellent.  At the first sign of illness, I start taking a baby spoonful every hour (more is not better).  I've found that it lessens the impact of symptoms, and also shortens the length of time the cold/flu needs to run it's course.  My sense is that elder helps my immune system do what it needs to do.

Rebecca (of Cauldrons and Crockpots)  and Kiva Rose of the Anima Lifeways and Herbal School, are both practicing herbalists, and have written lovely posts about the medicinal properties of elderberry.  Because they have a lot experience with elderberry, I'd encourage you to read their articles to learn more.  Bek's post is here, and Kiva's is here.  The recipe I use to make elderberry elixir comes through these two kick-ass women.

How to Make Elderberry Elixir

Elderberry elixir is incredibly simple to make.  Simply place fresh or dried berries into a jar.  Fill the jar halfway with honey, and halfway with brandy, then give it a stir with a knife or chopstick to remove air bubbles.  Keep the jar in a cool dark place for six weeks.  It's nice to add a few rose hips, some dried elder flowers, and/or a slice of ginger if you have them, but these aren't necessary.  After six weeks time, you can strain out the elderberries, but it's fine to leave them in the elixir indefinitely.

If you're really itching to cook with elderberries, might I suggest my recipe for Squirrel Fricassee with Elder, Juniper, and Wild Onion Gravy.

I'm sharing this recipe with Fight Back Friday.


  1. I read somewhere (possibly on Hank's blog) that it's easier if you freeze the elderberries before stripping them from the stems. Is there any downside to this?

  2. I tried that and it didn't seem like a huge advantage. And I worry about if this would have any effect on the medicine. Probably not, but just in case. It's ok, stripping berries actually forces me to sit in one place for a little while, which never happens otherwise.

  3. Aw, Butter, thanks for linking to me.

    Heh, yeah, I find processing herbs and wild foods somewhat meditative. Some things more than others.

    Gorgeous photo, btw.

  4. Hello! Your post is timely. I am desperately searching for elderberries to forage for the purpose of making my own elixir. That stuff knocks a cold/flu out in no time, not to mention strep throat.

    So questions: I am in the Seattle area and do you happen to know if elderberries can even be found in these parts (I'm a total newbie at this)? If so, where? Forest, stream, roadside?

    Thanks, I enjoy reading your blog.

  5. Hey Kristina! I agree that elderberry syrup is a must. And that's why I've been doing nothing but processing elderberries for 3-4 days now. It's worth it.

    It seems that they do indeed grow in your area. I found this post by Landgon Cook. If you're not already familiar with him, then you'll really enjoy his blog and book. He's a great forager and a talented writer.

    Lang's elder

  6. Woo hoo! This is excellent. I just knew they had to be around here, as we have tons of various berries, but I'd heard they don't grow here. Thanks for the referral, I have heard of him, I'm pretty sure it's one of the books at the library that's got a hold list a mile long. I will probably purchase it instead. I am going to go nuts learning about local foraging, spurred on by all the great local blackberries. It's just. So. Exciting! Found a walnut tree, which I wouldn't have known what it was if I hadn't just read your post, thimbleberries, wild grapes, and rose hips, all in one area (which may be sprayed unfortunately). I wonder what else is there that I can't identify yet. Can't wait to hit some trails and learn more.

  7. How do you know when elderberries are ripe? My source waits until the berries start dropping to the ground and the animals and birds are going at them. Does that sound about right? Or, is it earlier? He thinks his will be ready in a week or so but we are just a hop, skip, and jump from you so I am unsure. Then again, a gardener friend says that she knows of an elderberry bush that was recently blooming in Boulder.

  8. Butter,

    I've foraged for many things but can't add elderberry's to the list.

    I do always keep black elderberry in the house for flu season. It has been a lifesaver for us on many occasions!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts