Sunday, January 2, 2011

Elderberry Syrup

Happy 2011! I don't want to jinx myself by writing this post, but it's been in the hopper since the summer, and I thought January of the new year would be a great time to talk about the health benefits of your own totally local elderberry syrup. I haven't been sick yet, and I'd like to think that it's due to a few tricks to staying healthy. One of them being taking a spoonful of elderberry syrup every now and then when I think I'm running low, or when people around me start to get sick.

This summer I had a bit of an elderberry obsession. I found scraps of time to bike around my neighborhood sussing out where the elderberry bush grows. My own two little sambucus canadensis plants have miserable, and now I know that where I planted them was not optimal. Elderberries like swampy lands, their feet well in the water, face in the sun. Once I started looking, of course, I found them everywhere. Even on my property, on the edge of the pond, being choked out by alder bushes. I've since trimmed the alders back, and come spring I will transplant my two unfortunate troopers to a prime spot all cleared out: nice and wet, super sunny. I hope one day to encourage a whole passel of elderberry bushes down there, but in the meantime they are all over my immediate neighborhood for the picking.

Elderberries are not entirely edible!

The thing you want to be careful with is this: elderberries shouldn't really be eaten raw, and don't eat any of the leaves. And as with all foraging, you want to be sure they are elderberries! Now, what was I going to do with all those elderberries? I did not make wine. But I did make elderflower liqueur. I made elderberry jelly with some wild apples I found; delicious on duck. Elderberries are an acquired taste. They are slightly winey, musty and funky. They are also incredibly healthy. You can find elderberry syrup in health food stores, good for immunity and high in vitamin C. That's what gave me the idea of elderberry syrup. I was sending my friend a bottle of this great elderberry syrup made in Vermont that she swears by (she bought it while we were vacationing, and I sent it to her to lighten her load). I thought, gosh, I must be able to make that. So I did.
Elderberry production line.
 On the porch, I would pull the berries off the stems into a white bowl so I could see the little stems and pull them out. I used a recipe from my trusty Linda Ziedrich Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves (the recipe is called Elderberry Rob). It's basically just elderberries and honey. And of course, you know how good for you honey is. Nice and local, too. I also froze some elderberry juice, should I need to replenish my stock. And, of course, this syrup is great on yogurt or in a glass of champagne, like cassis in a kir royale. Or in a cup of hot water like tea. There was also a recipe for raw elderberry syrup, and I'm sure some may say that cooking it depletes it's store of vitamins but being that I intended it for my two-year old as well, I didn't want to chance it.

Fair warning: they will dye your fingers.
You basically want to juice the elderberries, which you do in a heavy-bottomed pot. One stemmed and washed, put them in a pot and mash them. I chose to add water because mine seemed so un-juicy. Probably due to our very dry and hot summer. Simmer for about fifteen minutes and strain. Because you are making syrup, you can squeeze the jelly bag you strain it in (go ahead, I know you want to do it!) because who cares about the cloudiness? (I saved the pulp and added it to some apple pulp to make some elderberry-applesauce which I then used for fruit bars, but that's me. I can't throw anything out.)

Then take the juice, measure it and add an equal amount of honey. Simmer it until the honey and juice are combined and look syrupy. And that's it. Seal it in a jar, keep it in the fridge. No canning required.

Fave kitchen tool. Potato masher. Or berry masher, depending on the season.

Some other good elderberry posts:

Picking Berries in California, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Elderberry Jelly, Simply Recipes
Respect Your Elderberries, David Lebovitz

Just a little something to keep under your hat until summer! It's really not that far away.


  1. Beautiful! I've been making elderflower cordial in the spring, but I haven't done anything with the berries that are easy to forage around here. This inspires me to try some syrup this summer.

    Happy New Year!

  2. I did not know about the health benefits of the fine elderberry. Really, all I knew was the Elton John song about the wine. Thanks. Love your new profile pic!

  3. an elderly aunt back in germany was famous for making and drinking elderberry wine. she hick-upped a lot and was generally on the saucy side. i had a spoon full of her stuff as a boy - and you're right it certainly is an acquired taste. the syrup though sounds like it might work in my cold-pantry. as soon as the time turns from freezing and summer has ripe berries i will try your recipe, until then i'm doing candied cumquats and will report back with my progress.
    thanks for your berry post, luscious images, delicious notion...

  4. Can I come live at your house? Please?
    I loved my grandpa's elderberry wine and grandma's elderberry jelly. And elderberry syrup might be the best part of being sick. Never occurred to me to make it! Nice!

    Oh, and once again, I must tell you the set on the apricot apple jelly is PERFECT. I keep showing people that come over, but I won't share with them =)

  5. Christina - Happy New Year to you, too! I think we'll trade; I'll make elderflower cordial this year, which I didn't make last. That sounds great--an abundance of elderberries!

    Denise - Ha! Thanks! Maybe next year I'll also make elderberry wine...

    Michael - It's always an elderly aunt drinking elderberry wine, right? Like I said, I'll have to try it one day! In the meantime, do keep us posted on the candying!

  6. Sounds good! I would like to give this a try if I can find these on our property somewhere...but I do worry how do I know for sure that they are elderberries!?

  7. Question for you:

    Can you use dried elderberries to make this recipe?

    I have a huge bunch of elderberries and haven't known what to do with them. I would love to make this, but I am unsure because all the berries are dried.

  8. Meg - We must've been commenting at the same time! Please come on over! You must have some elderberry in your blood or something. Make some!
    And I am so pleased that you like that jelly! Yay!

    Allison - There isn't TOO much you can get them confused with once you start reading up on them and acquainting yourself with how they look. The link above (click on the latin name in italics) gives a great description of it. Start by scoping out the flowers in June (or whenever you figure out for your area). The flowers are easy to identify, then remember where the plants are. It's always good to ID with someone who knows if you are unsure.

    Jimnet - Maybe not this exact recipe but I'm sure it can be done. I found this recipe, Try it out, and let me know! I was going to mention that you can buy dried elderberries online.

  9. Last year blinked and when I opened my eyes all the blinking elderberries were gone. Well there's always this year. I'll be remembering this post as the year unfolds. Happy New Year and lets raise our canning jars to 2011.

  10. This is gorgeous. It never occured to me to gatehr them. Now I just need someone who can help me identify. In fact, I think there are elder trees a few feet from my office. I may just have to go outside and see if there are berries this very minute! Thanks! Ken

  11. Ken be sure you don't get pokeberries which look similar and are poisonous. Julia I make this every year by the gallon and freeze it in old syrup jars since it molds. We go through a few tablespoons a day in the winter over here. Next year I plan to get extra berries to freeze to use in pancakes and scones. Love elderberries but they are an acquired taste to be sure.

  12. Hey Gloria! Don't you hate when that happens? At least you made a cordial. Happy New Year to you, too!

    Ken - Nice! You are totally motivated!

    Annette - You know, as a child I always wished that pokeberries would be edible. They are so luscious looking. I almost mentioned them here, but didn't, so I'm glad you did. It's a good point. Though once you know pokeberries you won't mistake them!

  13. Happy New Year! That's fantastic you found them in the wild - good sleuthing. :)

    I made an Elderberry Syrup this year as well and loved it. It was supposed to be a jelly, but you know how these things go.

    I found it delicious as an Italian soda with club soda and equally tasty over pancakes.

  14. I love your blog for smart posts like this one. I thought we didn't have elderberries here, which just goes to show how much I know -- because apparently we do. I just looked it up and it seems that both red and blue elderberries grow wild in Marin County. (Lots of discussion about how to avoid toxicity in both cases.) Now of course I want to find them even though I'm not sure I have the taste for them.

    Your home here is looking so shiny and sharp. Beautiful photos -- and nice work on the redesign all around. :-)