Friday, December 10, 2010

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

(Reposted from November 2008  with new bits.)

Elderberry flowers are still blooming in many places, 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 ... and then for winter.

In herbal medicine, Sambucus nigra flowers have long been used in many cultures for colds, coughs fevers, and inflamed sinuses. They promote sweating, are anti-inflammatory, and work as an expectorant. They also contain anti-viral compounds, with some research strongly suggesting they are effective against the symptoms of certain strains of flu.

The berries have similar medicinal properties. Only eat the ripe berries - and  cook them. While a few people seem to be able to tolerate the raw berries, most find them highly indigestible.

Some ways to keep elderflowers and elderberries to have all year round:
* Dry the flowers
* Freeze the berries
* Make wine from the berries or flowers
* Make preserves from the berries
* Make cordial from the berries or flowers and freeze it

Making elderberry and elderflower wine
There are some good links below to all sorts of elderberry and elderflower recipes, and an internet search will bring up hundreds more!

It's worth saying a bit more about making wine at home though. You can have a go at making elderberry and elderflower wine in a simple, time-honoured way, with very little or nothing in the way of special equipment.

Sandor Ellix Katz, author of the modern classic Wild Fermentation, gives a recipe for Ethiopian t'ej -  a mead. You can find the recipe all over the net, including at this site. As Katz points out in his book, the recipe can be adapted to ferment almost any sweet liquid.

So make your elderflower or elderberry cordial according to your favourite recipe, and then follow the t'ej instructions for fermenting it.

If you're not having much luck, or want to cheat a little, you can add a tiny bit of store-bought yeast to get it going. Winemakers yeast is probably preferable, but breadmaking yeast will also do.

(The principles behind making wild wines are very similar to those that underpin starting your own sourdough.)

Elderberry links:
Plants for a future database
Google images
My elderflower blog post
Lots of Elderberry recipes from Just Berry recipes
Elderflower recipes


Heather said...

Yum :-) I used to live in Basel, Switzerland where elders grew all over the place and most of my friends seemed to make their own cordial. I spent a happy evening wandering along the river picking one flower head per massive tree, and used my enormous stash to make about 4L of my own cordial. I was hooked! Super yummy and super easy! When I returned to Auckland I couldn't find any wild elders, but I bought canes from Koanga gardens and planted two on the cold side of my house. They're five years old now. The first two years there wasn't enough to do anything with, the third year I made my first small batch of precious elixir and this year I've just finished making about 9 litres of cordial and still have plenty of flowers to share! Most of that will get drunk or given away, but some of it will form the base of deliciously decadent elderflower sorbet :-)

I've also made a pretty ink from the berries last year which I've used for stamping, and will try making some cough syrup from the berries in the autumn, assuming I can save any from the birds! (last year the only berries I got were from bunches I'd covered with plastic bags while they were still hard and green!).

Looking forward to hearing you on the radio.

Anonymous said...

Would love to know how you made the ink Heather.

I usually put the berries into honey rather than making a syrup, so great idea out using Katz's tej recipe. I think eldeberries are one of those fruits with a high tendancy to ferment (elderberry honey goes a bit alcoholic). They probably have a yeast bloom on the skin like grapes. And presumably the flowers do too.


Heather said...

I used these instructions:

the ink looks really purple but turns a sort of browny colour after a couple of days, but the brown is stable. I haven't checked the ink recently, but it was still good months after I made it. I just used a bit of foam sponge stuff to make a stamp pad. The ink was too watery to write with but seemed OK for stamping.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Heather :-)

GawnCountry said...

hey, do you know any spots in the wairarapa where you can forage for elderflower? we have a bush but its only small at the moment

Johanna Knox said...

GawnCountry - lovely blog you have!! I see them quite often round the streets of Featherston/Greytown/Carterton, but I have a terrible memory and I'm struggling to think of the exact spots! We have one in our front yard now, which I'm very grateful for ...

I've seen them growing in people's backyards and hanging over their fences onto the footpath around Featherston a lot. I've also seen some going over the Rimutaka Hill, but you probably don't want to get out there ... Not being much help am I ...! I'll see if I spot some between Feathy and Greytown tomorrow and report back!

GawnCountry said...

oohhh we are in carterton - do let us know if you see some and where if you can remember, our bush is growing but we are dead keen to make some cordial with the flowers but also want to try some berrie recipes. Also would be keen to find some kawakawa as we enjoy the tea from t leaf

Johanna Knox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johanna Knox said...

Hi again - I looked between Featherston and Greytown and couldn't see any, except in people's yards. I think maybe I did see more round Carterton, but not sure. You could always do a little walk or drive round the country roads and see?

Where I did see a whole lot was along the railway track leading out of Featherston towards Wellington. As you're going towards Wellington from Featherston, they are on the left of the track. They didn't appear to be on private property.

I think if you scrambled along beside the railway track for a 15 mins or so you'd come across several.

Susan Connor said...

Have been making Elderberry tea for the last week. Besides being yum the effects are marvellous.