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
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.