Growing up on a very rural plot of land on the side of a mountain, I never gave much thought to the native Elder berry “trees.” The berries were so small and grew up high in the tree and, besides, the folk myth was that they couldn’t be eaten raw and children should stay away from them. I do remember there being some elderberry wine and jam making by some of the older folks in the community, but that was about it.
As an adult learning about eating locally and healthy wild and native foods, I became enamored with elderberry. It is full of antioxidants, flavonoids, and all sorts of other good-for-you stuff that I understand very little about. This year, after scouring nurseries and plant stands, we found a native elder berry (Sambucus caerulea ) and planted it mid-spring. It is doing well and has grown to about a foot since being plopped into our front garden.
As the fall approaches, and we are busy preserving and preparing, this is also the perfect time to make syrups and vinegars that can be used as foods and medicine. Elderberry syrup is wonderful as a cough syrup or taken by the spoonful at the start of the sniffles. It is also wonderful poured over pancakes or waffles or used in a hot or cold beverage. Since we tend to be food-as-medicine sorts of people–preferring to create healthy teas and add good-for-us herbs and spices into our daily cooking, elderberry syrup is a delicious creation to have on hand.
You can find myriad versions of this syrup in recipe books and online, but here is how we like to make it:
Raggedy Hen Farm Elderberry Syrup
1 cup dried, organic elderberries (we get ours from Mountain Rose Herbs) or 2 cups fresh elderberries
4 cups water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger or 2 Tablespoons grated, fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon dried orange peel
Put all these ingredients into a sauce pan and heat to boiling. Once the mixture boils, turn the heat down and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a large Pyrex pitcher or glass bowl. The sieve will catch all the berries and bits of unground herbs. Press down with the back of a wooden spoon on the berries just to make sure you get all the juice out of them.
Now add 2 cups local, raw, organic honey and stir into the juice mixture while it is still warm (but not too hot.) You can now pour this into a jar and keep it in the fridge, or even can it in a hot water bath. This makes about 5 cups of syrup–enough to fill a quart jar and have a little left to use fresh and warm on morning pancakes!