This is one of my favorite times of the year. The Elderberries are ripening and soon I will be busy using the fruit to make products that will get my family through the winter months.
Elderberries grow wild in many areas of the country. I find mine in road ditches near my house. In the spring you can harvest the elder flowers to use in teas. In the late summer the berries turn to a dark purple shade and the stems they grow on droop down from the weight of the berries. They may look ripe earlier but it's best to wait until this time to harvest them. Do not eat the berries raw because they can make you sick. The leaves, bark, and roots are toxic.
Elderberries boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, improve vision and heart health, as well as treat coughs, colds, flu, and infections. They are very high in antioxidants. In 1995 elderberries were used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama. Double blind studies have been done that show persons that take 15 ml four or five times a day are likely to recover four days earlier from the flu.
It is a tedious task to take the berries off of the stems. Some people use a comb to gently remove the berries. I put the clusters in a paper bag and then store them in the freezer until I am ready to use them. When I take them out I simply crunch the paper bag until the berries release and fall to the bottom of the bag. I then put the ones I won't be using into freezer bags for later use.
I use elderberries to make jelly, tinctures, syrups, and cordials. In this post I'm going to tell you how to make a tincture as that is my favorite way to use the berries. It is also a very simple process. Simply put the elderberries into a canning jar and cover them with vodka. Let them sit in a dark place for a few weeks, shaking daily. Use a cheesecloth to squeeze all the juice from the berries. Then drain the liquid from the jar and discard the berries. Glycerin which has a sweet taste, can be used instead of vodka and is preferred by some for children. This tincture will last all winter in a dark cool place. Take two tablespoons every 6 hours at the first sign of the flu.