Thursday, December 1, 2011

Elderberry Jammin'

In September, I went camping at the East Walker River.  We found a neat little camp site right off the road.  I noticed as we were attempting to off-road my Jetta, there were a number of bushes with blue berries.  The first rule of foraging is to POSITIVELY ID YOUR PLANT! Since we had no cell reception, I couldn't use those nifty apps where you take picture of the plants and it IDs it for you. Luckily, a truck pulled up and these people started plucking berries off the tree! Curious, I asked them what they were doing and I found out they were local Native Americans.  They were picking elderberries for their elders to make syrup and preserves.  My eyes lit up as I was extremely excited to go berry picking.  My attempt to go apple picking earlier in the century old orchards of Yosemite was thwarted by my lazy boyfriend (and the unexpected death of a good friend) so I'll be damned if something interferes with my berry picking!

After finding out the berries weren't poisonous, I began spotting the bushes everywhere.  The elderberry bushes were concentrated with in a 100 yards of each other so I didn't have to walk very far.  Elderberries grow in clusters and are ripe when the fruit has turned almost white.  It should look like a dusting of powdered sugar on the blue berries.

Elderberries are found throughout most of the world, in Europe, Asia, the Americas and even Australia. They supposedly have mystic and healing characteristics. In some areas, the elder tree was supposed to ward of evil spirits and give protections from witches.  Some say that witches congregate under their branches, especially when it is full of fruit. According to folklore, you should never cut down or burn an elder tree.  Spirits will haunt you.  And now for my favorite piece of trivia about the elder tree, the wood from an elder tree was used to create the Wand of Destiny, Death Stick, the Elder Wand aka Dumbeldore's wand from Harry Potter.

 Elderberry flowers are used to create elderberry cordials which are so popular right now with mixologists.  You probably have had a drink with St. Germain in it.  Wine, cordials and marmalades can be made from the berries. A popular dish in Europe is to eat pancakes with elderberries. Elderberries have been used medicinally throughout the centuries. You can find elderberries as an ingredient for almost all holistic cold medicines.  Eating elderberries has been shown to reduce congestion and may be an effective treatment for the H1N1 flu otherwise known as the Avian flu.  It is also effective in treating other types of flus and is even being recommended for AIDS and cancer patients for its ability to boost and sustain the immune system.  For more information about the health benefits of the elderberry check out wikipedia's page on Elderberries.

So what did I do with my 10 lbs of elderberries?  I made elderberry preserves, elderberry grape jelly (with organic, local grapes grown by my neighbor), elderberry syrup and elderberry vinegar!  Hopefully I will have a flu-free winter!
Some of the fruits of my labor

Listening to Bob Marley- Jammin


  1. Wow, 10lbs? What was your yield preserves, jelly, syrup, and vinegar from all this? Awesome stuff, Amy!

  2. Thanks Pat! It made 12 pints of preserves, 12 cups of jelly, 1 quart of syrup and 2 cups of vinegar. I had a lot of fun!


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