Experiments with Elderberries
How asparagus unknowingly lead me to experiment with elderberries.
Embarking on a new adventure is always exciting, especially when it involves learning to garden. I’m embarrassed to admit that elderberries were completely unknown to this transplanted city girl. A neighbor’s generous gesture of homemade elderberry syrup in exchange for my extra asparagus plants marked the beginning of awareness of elderberries and elderberry lore.
A short while after, another neighbor planted three elderberry shrubs on our farm as a thank you for letting her propagate butterflies on our trees. The following season, those bushes grew taller and bore fruit. I realized to my great surprise that we already had large elderberry trees laden with berries at the side of our barn. Elderberries are hardy plants that require no special care, offering a generous harvest.
Although elderberries were uncharted territory for me, they are increasingly popular for their potential health benefits. Now, my kitchen is adorned with vibrant purple stains as I dive into the process of experimenting with elderberry delights. And, thanks to a good deal of internet research, I discovered just in time that eating raw elderberries was verboten and toxic.
The first years I made jam, and syrup and canned several batches, trying different recipes. This past summer I promised myself to go easy on the processing. I made two batches of syrup with eight cups of berries in each. I froze two more half gallons of the raw fruit for playing with later. I skipped the canning.
Simmering elderberry syrup smells fantastic.
In the first batch I cooked the elderberries with an equal quantity of water in a slow cooker for two hours. I added a knob of fresh ginger, an orange with rind, two sticks of cinnamon, a vanilla bean and a few cardamon pods and cloves. After straining the solids and squeezing through a cheesecloth bag once the brew cooled a bit, I added four cups of local honey. This 2:1 proportion of liquid to honey was recommended in one blog I read, to act as a natural preservative.
I cooked the second eight cups with similar herbs plus two cups of sugar under pressure for seven minutes in my instant pot. It was delicious, but perhaps a bit too sweet. I strained this quick cooked syrup the same way and mixed half with a cup of vodka, leaving the rest for mocktails, pancakes, and ice-cream. My journey into the world of elderberries has been a delightful learning experience.
While I don’t claim ANY health benefits, I’ve found joy in creating elderberry syrup variations – from honeyed and sugared varieties to syrup with vodka for cocktails. Whether you’re seeking natural remedies or simply enjoying the taste, elderberry syrup offers endless possibilities.