Elderberries are an amazing little fruit, one of those abundantly delightful evidences of God’s hand in His creation. They grow wild, producing large clusters of tiny white blossoms, followed by brilliant blue berries on red stems, and everything deliciously fragrant, like breathing sugared roses!
Both the blossoms and the berries are full of vitamins and antioxidants, and have long been used traditionally to help prevent and ease illness, especially during winter months. It makes my heart bubble up with joy to think of how graciously the Lord cares for us, that each year He brings forth these beautiful little packages out of the earth to smooth our passage through more difficult seasons ahead!
Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.(Psalm 75:1, KJV)
~ foraging ~
My beautiful harvest-companions on this particular day of foraging were the fierce little Yellowjackets and a striking Bald-faced Hornet.
Read more about bald-faced hornets, including some pictures of their beautiful paper nests, from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
I didn’t want to aggravate either of these guys. Yellowjackets are notoriously ill-tempered, and while Bald-faced Hornets have been less aggressive in my experience, I really did not want to get on the wrong end of any of those stingers. So I moved slowly, and reached carefully, checking first to make sure I wasn’t grabbing a handful-of-angry-wasp with my berries!
All of my little flying friends seemed to be very peaceful, though, and I didn’t have any trouble. I even had a Yellowjacket drop down onto my arm, and he just walked along my sleeve for a moment and then flew away. Maybe all of that delicious elderberry juice was keeping them in their happy place!
Once dried, all of the berries have to be removed from their little stems. Because one of the funny things about Elderberry is that, though the flowers and berries are super-beneficial, everything else on the plant is mildly toxic! Leaves, seeds, stems, none of it is edible. It’s one of those instructive reminders in God’s creation ~ though He has placed us in a world that is beautiful and wonderful and full of good things, it is not perfect, and it is full of harmful things as well. Reminders like these help us to keep our eyes set upon His eternal promises to come, rather than the good things of this earth that will fade away.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.(1 Thessalonians 5:21, KJV)
So, in the meantime, I’ll just be plucking all of these little elderberries off of their stems!
This box-full of berries has been sun-dried in cheesecloth. I worked through them in bunches, gently rubbing each group to release the berries into my bowl, and setting the stems aside for composting. They crumble off very easily, and while the work is a bit slow, it’s really pleasant, because they smell amazing! Kind of like very sweet raisins, with a hint of rose, like taking deep breaths of a summer day…and a little slow work yields a bowl-full of elderberries, ready for the kitchen!
There are lots of great ideas out there for how to use Elderberries, like these suggestions from Mother Earth News or The Spruce Eats… but I’m just getting started, and so I’m going to keep things easy, and just make a cup of tea!
After trying a variety of re-usable filters for coffee and tea in the past, we finally just made our own, and that’s the one that I’m using in this picture. The 100% cotton muslin filter is sized to fit onto a wide-mouth mason jar. Here, I’m brewing a quart of tea, and so I added 4 Tbsp of dried berries to the filter and covered them in hot water to steep for about 5 minutes. For a richer flavor, cover the mason jar with its lid and let it sit overnight.
This filter is hand-lettered with Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Just another way to keep the word of the Lord before my eyes in those little, everyday moments of life, like waiting for tea to brew!)
Finally, I like to use a spoon to mash the berries around before removing the filter, to get out every possible ounce of goodness.
And there you have it, a cup of foraged Elderberry tea, right from God’s garden!
Today, Elderberry is praised as a superfood, an immune booster, something of a winter cure-all. As a result, it is commercially packaged into all kinds of shelf-friendly forms: bulk dried berries, powders, vitamins, supplements, extracts, syrups, drops, lozenges, vitamins, gummies, and even lotions, creams and balms.
Still, nothing compares to the enjoyment of encountering Elderberry in its natural habitat, and working with your hands to gather up this lovely provision from God and prepare it for the season ahead!
by Sydney Michalski