Elderberries are finally starting to ripen around here. The green berries start to darken and become heavy with beautiful berries. These scrubby looking bushes are a common site in damp ditches along our country roads.
I’m so thankful to have found a good supply to be able to stock up on berries for the winter cold and flu season. Elderberry is easily on my top 10 herbs to always have on hand. The berries are great antivirals and are very effective in preventing and lessening the severity of the flu. They work by activating the immune system by helping produce inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine production. (Herbal Legacy)
If you are lucky enough to find some bushes growing, then harvest those berries. It is really quite easy. There are so many ways to preserve them that anyone can do it. You don’t need any special equipment!
To pick the berries, make sure the berries are a dark purple/black color. The bunches of berries will be almost bowed over due to the heaviness of the berry. Simply pick the bunches of berries off on the stem to bring home. Do not mistake poke berries for elderberries. Poke berries are going to be in a more cone-shaped bunch and the stems and branches look much different.
Once you get your berries home, it’s time to de-stem them. This can be a bit tedious but if you have some kids at home, they love this job. (Well, mine do!) You can do this by hand or with a fork. If you use a fork you’ll end up with a few more little stems to pick through, but it does go MUCH faster!
After getting all the berries off the stems, it’s time to clean them. I soak them in the sink with some vinegar and baking soda. While they are in the sink, I try to weed out leaves, green berries and stems. They often float to the top making them easy to scoop off. Next, just drain the water and allow the berries to dry for a bit. You can do this on a towel or gently shake them in a colander.
Now, you need to decide just what to do with your berries! I like to do a variety of all of the below so I’m always prepared for illness or to share with friends in need.
Dehydrating when you aren’t ready to use your berries. It’s relatively quick and with not much work. They also take up little space when down. I love my (affiliate link) Excalibur dehydrator. I dry my berries at 135 degrees for about 10 hours. Then I store in quart jars with tight lids. They are ready for when needed to make syrup, tincture or tea. These are also nice to share with others.
Tinctures are great because they are so convenient for storage and for treatment. Tinctures also generally don’t lose their potency over time like dried herbs to. If you are using the fresh berries for tincture, you’ll need to do it with a ratio of 1 part berry to 2 parts alcohol.
Elderberry syrup is amazing at helping keep the icks away…it also tastes great making it super easy to give to your kids. Syrup does not have the shelf life that tincture does but it nice to have on hand for illness. (My favorite is to mix the syrup with the tincture to give everything a good punch!)
There are lots of syrup recipes floating around…these are a few of my favorite:
Tips for making Elderberry Syrup from Natural Fertility and Wellness
Elderberry Syrup from Raising Generation Nourished
Elderberry Recipes from Gwen’s Nest
Elderberry and Rose Hips Tonic from Delicious Obsessions
Freezing elderberries is a great way to store fresh berries. This is also nice when you can only pick a few berries at a time. All I do is measure them in one cup increments and store them baggies. This way, the amount is set and ready for me to pull out and make syrup at the thought of any illness. Just make sure you LABEL your baggies with the date, amount and name. (Always label!!!!)
So, that is really all you need to know about elderberries from harvest to preservation. It’s easy peasy! It’s so amazing that God provides us with this bounty for illnesses. I love it! I’ve started my harvest for the fall and it only takes a few hours to prepare all of this for the winter time.
Identifying, harvesting and preserving herbs are also great projects for kids. My boys love scouting for herbs and helping me prepare them. As we work, I talk about how each of them works. They are getting good though and will ask for certain herbs when they are feeling sick! My heart fills with joy for them to learn such practical skills in a way that is fun to them.
If you don’t have elderberries available to harvest, Mountain Rose Herbs is a great place to purchase them.
Looking for just a tincture? I like Dr. Christopher’s…I’m always pleased with their line of products.
If you’re looking for more information about elderberry, here are some great resources as well!
As summer ends, tell me what herbs you are preparing for winter! What are your favorites to have on hand!