Friday, November 28, 2008

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Elderflowers are blooming, so get them while you can, but leave lots to turn into berries! :)

Moore Wilson is selling elderflower cordial for about $14 per 500 mls. You can make your own for the cost of about 250g of sugar.

As well as cordial, the flowers can be made into wine and tea. They can also be used in flower fritters and more.

They have strong cooling properties, so whatever you make from them now, you might want to save plenty for midsummer.

Medicinally, Sambucus nigra flowers are used for (among other things) colds and fevers. They promote sweating and act as an expectorant.

Elderberry links:
Plants for a Future database
Google images
Elderflower recipes
My elderflower blog post


Heather said...

Yum :-) I love elderflower cordial. I discovered it when I lived in Switzerland, where many of my friends made it every year and swore by it as a winter cold preventative. We planted two elders when we bought our house nearly 4 years ago (they don't grow well in Auckland and there are no wild ones near my place that I know of, but I've managed to get them to grow well on a south-facing wall). This year will be the first year that I'll be able to make cordial - the plants are covered in buds but there aren't any open flowers yet. I'm *so* looking forward to yummy cordial.

Elderberry jam was popular in Switzerland, too, although I thought it was fairly so-so. You need to add apple or something as the berries have very little pectin, and they often add cinnamon as well. You musn't eat the berries raw (or at least not very many of them) as they give you diaorrhea :-(

It was living in Switzerland that really turned me into a forager. Even people who claimed no interest in foraging had heaps to teach me about herbs and mushrooms and berries and all sorts that grew wild - that knowledge simply had never been lost by the population. I loved going tramping and spicing up my lunch with wild greens, or going for a bikeride and coming back with kilos (literally!) of berries to turn into jam. I took to never leaving the house without a few collection bags, just in case! Unfortunately by the time I returned to NZ I was (and still am) largely bed-ridden, so I haven't been able to get out and learn a lot about what's available here, but I'm delighted to have found your blog to learn a bit more about the edible weeds in our garden. Thank you!

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Heather - how great to have your own two coming into flower. I had no idea that didn't grow so well in Auckland. (I just imagine *everything* grows better in Auckland. lol)

Your Swiss experience sounds wonderful. Hmmm ... it's pretty interesting to think about why the foraging tradition is so strong in Europe, while Pakeha NZers at least have largely lost it (in comparison) ... Perhaps our relatively recent shift to another land? Or was it never so strong in the parts of the UK most of us came from?

Heather said...

Ah, no - lots of things don't grow well in Auckland. Anything that needs cold - cherries and raspberries being two other examples, although we do have a warm-weather raspberry doing very well :-)

I think that the UK must have lost that folk knowledge of plants earlier than continental Europe, so maybe they didn't have it any more by the time our ancestors came here. My brother has lived in the UK (mainly Scotland) for about 10 years now, and I was quite struck visiting him from Switzerland that his friends there were as ignorant on the topic as the average Kiwi. Don't know why. Although the Swiss are also enormously aware of the place where they live. They know stuff like which weather pattern has come to them from Siberia and which from Africa. They don't travel much - even now many young people have never left the country. I was stunned to meet neighbours who had never left Switzerland when I was biking to a French supermarket (as in, a supermarket in France) every month or so to pick up groceries I couldn't buy locally. So they know their home patch very well.

Knowledge of medicinal teas is also still widespread. I was interested that my doctor recommended I drink Linden tea (I think in English they are called lime blossoms, but they aren't the blossoms of the lime tree) when I had a chest infection. She was surprised I wasn't doing so already! After all, it was what any sensible person would do, although there's no accounting for foreigners ;-)

Must go, but I must share that I've just had yummy solar-cooked eggs and cheese with solar-cooked tomatoey sauce for my lunch. My aunty is staying to take care of me at the moment while my husband is overseas, and she was very excited at the idea of cooking lunch in a box outside and took lots of photos :-)

If you're ever in Auckland I would love to meet you, so do please get in touch.

--Heather :-)

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Heather - sorry - a very belated reply!!!

What you are saying about the UK losing the folk knowledge of wild plants before coming here makes sense with something I was just reading yesterday.

This was about how the first British missionary settlers here in the 1800s planted these lovely flower gardens, but mostly not for medicinal herbs. For medicines they relied on readymade mass produced herbal and pharmaceutical preparations that they purchased and brought over, or imported from Britain. (Even though a number of the flowers they planted were known as medicinal.)

Apparently people who visit the historic mission garden sites often assume they had medicinal herb gardens - but largely, they probably didn't.

Johanna Knox said...

Oh, and yes, absolutely next time I am in Auckland (maybe 2009 sometime ... I'm hoping!) would love to meet up.