Monday, September 17, 2012

Elderberry Syrup

After reading the long list of healing powers and preventative properties of elderberries, I've come to the conclusion that James Brown could very well have just had himself a dose of this natural cure-all before he broke out into this song!  My goodness!  Is there anything this berry can't do?  (Well, it wasn't much help cleaning up the kitchen after the making of this syrup, that's for sure!)  The antioxidants in elderberries are used to lower cholesterol, make healthy hearts, fight colds and flu, improve your vision, as well as boost your immune system.  There are claims that it even fights viruses!  Supposedly it puts up a sort of force field around your cells to keep viruses from infecting them.  And the use of elderberries isn't a new age practice.  It's been in the remedy loop for centuries on almost every continent.  Yep - I'm feelin' pretty good myself about now!

When I was 10 years old my family moved into a home situated right on the edge of the Allegheny National Forest.  Our street came off of Route 6 at about a 45 degree angle, forming a "point" of land.  Our house was right next to this undeveloped "point."  The "point" wasn't very large at all and at any spot from within it you could still easily see our house, but to us little kids, it still seemed rather adventurous when we'd go exploring through the trees and thick growth of vegetation.

On this "point" were wild elderberry bushes.  When they were ripe my mother would corral us kids and send us out to the "point" to pick the elderberries.  We'd each find an empty pail and set out to conquer the wilds and find the elderberries so my mom could make pies, syrup, juice - it didn't matter.  I just remember that I really liked them.  We'd end up eating a good amount as we picked and, elderberries being rather pigmented, it was usually obvious from the stains on our faces and clothes that we'd enjoyed ourselves quite nicely in the harvesting!

When I tell people about this elderberry foraging and snacking I'm met with exclamations of disbelief!  Surely I hadn't eaten them raw!  I reaffirm that, yes, indeed, I had eaten them raw!  To this I am then told that elderberries, along with their healing powers, are also known to have some rather toxic qualities as well!  The incredulous nonbeievers claim I must have certainly become quite sick after feasting on the raw berries to which I say that I don't remember any such consequence happening at all!  And, believe me, as one kid who hated being sick as much as I did, I would have remembered such an outcome and sworn off elderberries for forever and be done with them!  End of story!

However, I did not get sick and my memories of elderberries are nothing but pure fun and deliciousness!  So much so that when I recently heard that my friend and neighbor had some elderberries that were nearly ripe, I sat right up and inquired as to the likelihood of my getting some of those berries when they were ready.  She said I was welcome to come pick some when they were ready.  Score!!

Well, that event happened this past week!
Aren't they beautiful?  They hang from the branches in clusters like these and you just snip the clusters free with some scissors.

Now, I feel I must be fully honest and let you know that the snipping of the clusters from the trees is very easy.  The process of getting those little berries off the stem, while not difficult, is quite time consuming!  I took my two flat boxes home and found some large storage containers and filled them about halfway with the berry clusters and then filled them with cool water.  I worked mostly outdoors on my patio as there tends to be lots of bugs that like to hide inside the clusters.  I let them sit in the water a bit and then I just started pulling.  Actually, it's more like a rolling action between my fingers.  What's good is that the ripe berries WANT to come off the stems.  You just need to be gentle enough that you don't squish them and release the juices too soon.  I just pulled a cluster from the cool water and, holding it over a bowl, gently rolled the berries between my fingers and they rolled off into the bowl!

Once they're off the stems you can freeze them right then to make pies or syrups later or go ahead and use them now.  I did both - froze some and made some syrup out of the rest.

Elderberry syrup is one of the most gloriously velvety concoctions known to man!  If the vibrant color doesn't win your heart, the decadent flavor will!  It'll make pancakes or waffles a gourmet feast and turn a bowl of ice cream into a work of edible art!  And to think you're doing yourself a FAVOR by eating it!     
I sincerely thank my friend and neighbor for giving me this trip down memory lane!  When I asked if I could pay her she simply requested some Soft Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies!  That seemed too easy so I added a bottle of the homemade Vanilla Extract as well!

Elderberry Syrup
Elderberries, washed and destemmed and free of any little pieces of stem (they actually can be quite toxic)
Cinnamon Stick

Place your elderberries into a large pot and, using a potato masher, start squashing some of the berries.  You don't need to do them all.  You're just releasing enough juice to start the cooking process.  Once you have some mashed, turn on the heat under the pot to medium and cook the berries, stirring often, until they come to a low boil.  At this point, turn off the heat and put the berries through a food mill, capturing the juice in a clean container underneath.  This will remove the skins and the seeds.  The seeds can be bitter so you don't want to over process the berries.  You might have to work in batches.  After the food mill I run them through a fine mesh sieve as well.

When all the berries have been put through the mill and sieve and the juices extracted, measure the volume of the juice and place in a clean large pot.  Add an equal amount of sugar - for example, if your juice measures 4 cups, or 1 quart, then add 4 cups of sugar.  Stir the sugar to mix well and then add a cinnamon stick to the mixture.  Bring to a low boil and let simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes.  You will be able to see that the liquid has thickened and coats a spoon.  Remove from heat and let cool.  As it cools it will continue to thicken.  Put in containers and store in the refrigerator - it'll last for months!


  1. Lesson for you from Grandma! LOL!! Use a big comb with the largest end and comb off berries. Much easier, and make some good wine.

  2. Does your neighbor have more of these to share (as in more than she needs)?????
    Or is the season over?
    I am so tempted by this simple and delicious and healthful concoction!


  3. Uncle Jack used to make the best elderberry wine.