Elderberries are an amazing little fruit. They grow wild, producing large clusters of tiny white blossoms, followed by brilliant blue berries on red stems. The whole grove is 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.
On a late fall morning, when the clusters were nice and blue, I set about harvesting.
My beautiful harvest-companions on this particular day of foraging were several 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 places!
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. So after drying, 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 like to keep things easy and just make a cup of tea!
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 something delicious for the season ahead!
by Sydney Michalski
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