Elderberry season is here! If you read my post on elderflowers, you will remember that we have 3 bushes around where we live. I've been eagerly waiting for the little berries to turn from green to purple, and when we got back from our vacation this summer, just that had happened! I quickly went out and gathered the ripe berries.
A refresher on elderberries: They have long been known as an immunity booster, rich in vitamins A, B and C. They are also used to lower blood sugar in diabetics and they help to reduce inflammation. They are a great thing to use not only for overall health, but also for things like the flu or other specific illnesses.
To harvest the elderberries, make sure that you are only picking the bunches that are very ripe. Usually the whole stem will turn purple and that's when you know they are ripe enough to use. Once you have gathered your elderberry bunches, pick all the elderberries off of the stem into a big bowl filled with water. I find that using a fork for this step helps to speed things along, and keeps your hand from turning purple, just make sure that you don't have any stem still attached to the berries because the stem is poisonous! After you have separated the elderberries from the stem, let the bowl of water settle for a few minutes. Anything that you should not use will float to the top (things like stems or unripe berries), so you can just skim these things off, strain the ripe berries from the water and you are good to go! You can either use the berries right away, dry them, or freeze them. Usually freezing berries is used more as a short-term preservation option if you are waiting for more berries to ripen if you are needing a large amount for a specific recipe.
If you don't have any elder bushes around where you live, fear not! You can buy dried elderberries and use those in almost any elderberry recipe instead.
Elderberries can be used in so many different things: from wine to jam to tea and everything in between. Master herbalist Rosemary Gladstar gives some other ideas and talks about the benefits in this video if you want to learn more. I decided to make an elderberry shrub with the berries I gathered.
A shrub - or drinking vinegar - was originally used in colonial times to preserve the harvest of medicinal fruits, berries and herbs in a mixture of apple cider vinegar and honey. This sweet-and-sour syrup was then poured over ice in a cordial glass, or mixed with fizzy water and/or alcohol to create a refreshing, and good-for-you drink. Today, you can use a shrub in the same way or you can even use it as a marinade for meats and veggies or as a salad dressing! An added bonus is the fact that you will also be drinking apple cider vinegar which is known to calm indigestion, lower blood pressure and helps to promote weight loss. You really can't go wrong with shrubs!
Elderberry Shrub Recipe
2 cups elderberries
1 quart apple cider vinegar
.5 quart honey
1. Wash and pick over the berries (see above). In a saucepan, combine berries and vinegar, cover and bring to a low simmer. Once the mixture has reached a simmer, remove from heat and put in a glass jar with a non-reactive cover and let stand overnight or up to 2 weeks.
2. Mash fruit vinegar and strain through cheesecloth or muslin, making sure to squeeze out any extra vinegar mixture. Add honey and stir well to blend. Store in sterilized jars with non-metal lids in a cool, dark place. Don't forget to label and date the jars so you know what is inside and when it was made.
This will keep for about 1 year. It's great to use around a tablespoon of this mixed with fizzy water as an afternoon pick-me-up, or mixed with fizzy water and alcohol for cocktail hour.
Enjoy, and let me know if you decide to try this recipe!