I’ve managed a few elderberry harvests in the last couple of weeks and have been mixing up some different syrups and other medicinal and delectable preparations. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is one of our most important herbs at this time of year as both a treatment and preventative for autumn and winter colds and flus.
Collect your elderberries when they are ripe and a deep purple/black, remembering of course to ask the Elder Mother’s permission first. When you get home, strip them from the stems and discard any that are still green or red as well as any that have shrived. Elderberries should be cooked before ingesting as they can be laxative and emetic when eaten raw.
I have made a variety of different elderberry syrups this year with different healing properties emphasised in each one. The basic method for all the syrups is the same and is as follows:
- Place 2 cups of elderberries in a pan with 2 cups fresh water and whichever additional herbs you are using (see below for variations.) Simmer gently for about 30mins with the lid off until the water has reduced to about half it’s original amount and the berries have released all their juice. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
- When cool, strain through a jelly bag into a measuring jug.
- Add approximately the same quantity of raw honey to the elderberry juice and stir until dissolved. You can use less honey but the mixture will not last so long.
- Bottle in sterilised preserving bottles and label. Store in the fridge.
During the first stage you can add different herbs according to your preference. I added a handful of fresh thyme and hyssop to my first batch to make a syrup that is particularly effective for winter ailments that affect the respiratory system. My next batch included orange peel and cloves to make a Vitamin C rich, anti-microbial blend that will also ease the digestion. Cardamom and ginger added to the next batch are warming and stimulating to sluggish winter circulation. Finally I simmered a batch of elderberries on their own and added 12 pink rosebuds when I turned it off the heat. I let these infuse whilst the mixture cooled and added half the quantity of linden blossom honey (I used less so as not to overpower the beautiful and delicate rose flavour) to make a divinely comforting blend for grey days which also encourages a healthy heart. As I mentioned before this syrup won’t last as long as the others but it’s so delicious I don’t think it will be hanging around for long anyway! In the fridge these syrups should last 3/4 months, slightly less for the rose one.
Syrups can be taken directly off the spoon, added to hot or cold drinks, drizzled on porridge, added to smoothies or any other way that takes your fancy.
Sugar vs. Honey? Most traditional syrup recipes use sugar instead of honey and heat the elderberry juice a second time after adding it to make a thicker syrup. The advantages of this are that it will last longer, potentially the whole year until the next harvest comes round, and that it’s much cheaper- raw honey can get a bit pricey in large quantities. The downsides of course are that sugar does not contain the medicinal benefits of raw honey which is antibacterial and rich in antioxidants and enzymes. In fact, sugar can act to deplete the immune system and many people in today’s sweet-crazed society already have imbalances caused from an excess. Still if you want to make large quantities that will last, it’s pretty much the only option and the damaging effects won’t out way the benefits of the elderberries.
If you want a long lasting and delicious preparation that warms your wintery cockles then this could be the one for you. I go to town a bit on my elixir, making it with a combination of port and brandy, local raw honey and warming spices. When i was at university I was introduced by a friend to the winning combination of port and brandy as the ultimate cure for colds and flus. Nowadays I tend to turn to herbs first but I still respect these warming alcohols for driving out the cold and the ache. That’s why I combine them with the elderberries and the warming spices from another of my favourite beverages, Chai. For me, this blend is the ultimate winter warming wonder recipe. Take a tablespoon in a small glass of warm water each evening as a preventative or take half a teaspoon every couple of hours at the first sign of infection.
To make it mostly fill a jar with freshly picked elderberries. Give them a wash and quick dry on some kitchen towel first as the natural yeasts present on the berries can cause this to ferment and ooze out of the jar if you aren’t careful. Add one cinnamon stick, broken into pieces, 8 thin slices of fresh ginger and then 12 cloves, 12 black peppercorns and 20 cardamom pods lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle. Add brandy until 1/3 jar is filled with liquid, then add 1/3 port and top the final third up with honey. Stir everything thoroughly with a bamboo chopstick or glass stirring rod. Lid, label and store out of direct sunlight, somewhere cool and dry for a month to six weeks before straining and rebottling. I like to hold the jar between my hands every few days and add some energy healing to the mix.
This can be made very simply by filling a jar with elderberries and covering with vodka, lidding, then allowing to sit for a month stirring occasionally, before straining and re-bottling. This will last at least the year and has the advantage of being easily added to blends of other herbs.
Elderberry, Blackberry and Apple Autumn Crumble
Add some elderberries into your favourite crumble recipe to give your immune system a boost and lend a lovely tang to the other fruit. I made this one with cooking apples, blackberries and elderberries with a few dates to sweeten it. The topping was made from oats, ground almonds, seeds and pecan nuts with a few more chopped dates and some ground cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and vanilla powders. Scrumptious.
Elderberries can also be dried or frozen to make into teas or add to other preparations later in the season. I’ve had lots of fun creating delicious elderberry concoctions this autumn and I’ve enjoyed reading about other people’s adventures with elder too. Some posts from other bloggers I’ve been enjoying over the last few weeks include a lovely one over at Nettlejuice which you can read here. This one here from Moment to Moment which is full of beautiful photos. And this one here from Sensory Herbcraft which has an alternative syrup recipe using sugar.
Update: I’ve just read this post over at the delightful Teacup Chronicles which is full of great information on elderberries and some lovely reflections.