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21 January 2015

Making elderberry drinks

Last week our elder tree (sambucus nigra) was heavy with berries. It's the first year there have been enough berries to do anything with. All the previous five years we've had plenty of flowers for elderflower cordial, but the berries dropped off before they were ripe. So we were really pleased to be able to pick a basket of berries and have the luxury of deciding what we'd do with them.

When Hanno was a little boy, his mum used to make elderberry soup, and he still has fond memories of that. We may make elderberry soup in the future but for now we decided on a summer drink that gave us a healthy boost. I made elderberry cordial.

For those of you who are looking to grow fruit trees, I think elderberry would be a great first tree. It can be a bit of a nuisance if it sends out suckers but it needs moist conditions for suckers to develop, so that doesn't happen often here.  When it does sucker, it's very easy to put out the suckers. Unlike many fruit trees, you can be picking flowers in the first or second year and here in our climate, we have berries in our fifth year. There are flushes of flowers all through the year but I'll have to see what happens from now on with the berries developing. Elder grows very well from cuttings so if you know someone with a tree, ask for a cutting. You can use the fruit for jam, wine, champagne, cordial, soup and immune boosters in winter. 

The workers, Hanno and Jamie, went out picking in the backyard a couple of days ago.  Hanno picked half the berries off the stalks. Traditionally you do that using a fork, I found it easier to do it by hand. You need to remove the berries without stalks as the leaves and stalks have a slight toxic quality and you don't want any in your elderberry delights.





Making elderberry cordial is very easy once you have your berries off the stems.  Wash them to remove any dust or bugs and place them in a saucepan. With a potato masher, squash the berries to remove the juice. Add a cup of water, bring to the boil and gently simmer for 20 minutes.


If you have a food press, pour the juice into the press and process the fruit to squeeze out all the juice. You'll end up with the pulp and seeds in the press and the juice in the jug. If you don't have a food press, mash the berries to remove as much juice as you can, then strain them through a fine sieve or a sieve with a muslin cloth over it. Press out as much juice as possible and discard the seeds and pulp. Our chooks had the leftovers and loved them. 





When you have the pure juice, add the juice of one lemon, pour it back into the saucepan and for every cup of juice, add half a cup of sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring to prevent it from burning. When the sugar is completely dissolved, allow to cool and pour into a clean bottle. If you want to keep the cordial for a long time, sterilise the bottle.

Elderberries are full of antioxidants, vitamins A and C, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium. To make elderberry syrup for colds and flu you'll need:
  • 2 cups elderberries, de-stemed and washed
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup raw honey
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
Add the berries to a medium saucepan and, with a potato masher, mash the berries to release as much juice as possible. Add the ginger and water and bring to the boil. Gently simmer for 20 minutes. Process as above with the food press or a sieve, return to the saucepan and add honey. Stir until it's completely dissolved.

Cool slightly and pour into a clean bottle. If you want to store it for a while, sterilise the bottle.

I keep elderberry cordial in the fridge and dilute it with cold water or cold mineral water. It makes a very refreshing drink and the cordial costs a small fraction of what you'd buy it for in the shops.  If you don't have enough berries to make up some cordial, freeze the berries as you pick them and make it when you collect enough. The berries and the flowers are still very useable after they've been frozen.

Do you grow elder or have access to it? What are your favourite elderberry recipes?


25 comments:

  1. I have never seen an elderberry in my life before - how fascinating

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  2. Really strange living in the UK to see elderberries being picked by people in shorts, it's Autumn here and beginning to get chilly when I pick elders! I cook mine with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, orange peel and brown sugar for a winter flu fix. Feeling jealous of your lovely sunny garden!

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  3. I really enjoyed reading this! I have recently taken cuttings from a friend so hope to have elderberries one day. I've been making cordials with a ver similar method over the last couple of weeks. I made mulberry cordial and plum cordial. The children love it! I like the idea of the syrup for colds!

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  4. I had elderberry drink for the first time here 15 years ago. They don't use the berries, they only use the flowers and it's a very unique taste, but I like it! Yours looks great!

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  5. Morning Rhonda.......I love Hanno's little helper, taking his job so seriously. Is that as tall as the tree will get? I don't know anyone with one, but I've often seen them in the local nursery. the cordial looks delicious.

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  6. I don't have and elder tree, but I will be on the lookout for one now, as it sounds like a useful plant.

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  7. For some unknown reason, I had thought the berries would not be such a glorious red colour. How fortunate you are to have these.

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  8. Great pictures of them picking from the tree. Your cordial looks really refreshing.
    Rosezeeta.

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  9. Thanks Rhonda I am presuming that an ekder tree would do well up here in fnq . I might look into it :-)

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    1. Serena, I'm not sure about Cairns. Ask at your nursery. They're from the UK, America and cold climates. But even if no one else is growing it, have a go and put it in the coolest place with afternoon shade. If you send me your address, I'll send you a cutting.

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  10. I am thinking that these may grow on the roadsides in my area of the US. I will have top keep an eye out next summer. It would be great to go out and harvest what I do not have enough sunshine to grow on my own property.

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    1. I think they're a fairly common roadside plant in the UK, Lana. I wouldn't be surprised to find them over there on the roadsides too.

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  11. I am nursing along the cutting you gave me, Rhonda. It is doing well. When I went up north for three weeks the men were given strict instructions not to let 'Rhonda's Elderberry' die! I am looking forward to making some cordial in a few years.

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  12. i bought my elderberry tree from Mudbrick Cottage, it's still in the pot waiting for the new chook pen to be finished as i am hoping to put it in there with other fruit trees, at the moment it needs to be repotted. in some areas of australia they have been declared a noxious weed too.
    can you make the cordial without sugar? i have an elderberry cold recipe but have yet to make it, i didn't get a cold last year, don't think i've had one for a couple of years now.
    your cordial does look delicious. love the little helper, he looks like he takes he's work seriously too.
    hanno is looking good as well :))
    a great post as always!
    selina from kilkivan qld

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    1. Sugar does provide good preserving qualities but I'm sure you could make it with honey or possibly Rapadura. You'll need to google it to make sure, Selina.

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  13. They are quite common here in Tasmania and foragers can access them pretty easily on public land areas and I also have one in the garden. Every year I collect elderberries for tincture for the cold and flu season and it never seems enough as word spreads about the incredible immunity boosting and anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Even my doctor keeps my tincture on hand and takes it at the first sign of trouble. I make cordial with the flowers in spring but all the berries get made into tincture.

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  14. Gorgeous photos of your helpers. My pear tree in the chook shed suddenly died this year, catastrophic failure they say and I have no idea why so now I have room for an elderberry. Thanks for the inspiration!
    kxx

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  15. Elder trees grow wild around here by the hundred! (Wiltshire, UK) I pick elderflowers for cordial and elderberries to make wine. I had planned to make a kind of cough/cold syrup for the winter, but forgot...but luckily no colds yet :)

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  16. One year we made elderberry wine hubby was not keen on the smell when I cooked the berries but he was more than happy to drink the wine , it was really quite potent stuff .

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  17. In the UK we rarely grow elderberries as a crop they are, however, a common hedgerow tree that are freely foraged for elderflower cordial and champagne in early summer and berries for wine and cordial in autumn. They really are an unsung hero of our landscape.

    It's lovely to see how your littlest helper is growing up - he's adorable.

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  18. Elderberries are not a big thing in the USA. It seems they should be, though with all of the heath benefits you've listed. I'm growing blackberries - last year being the first year in the ground. I got 3 cups from the bush that I froze to add to this year's crop for jam. I also started strawberries last year, at the end of the season when the plants were on sale. I'm not sure what a cordial is - does it contain alcohol? If not, I'm think of making the health syrup you write about using the berries I have on hand. By the way, I fell in love with your little helper. So sweet!

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  19. We took a small branch from an elderberry on the family farm. It had been living neglected in the sheep yards for many decades. Every cutting took and now we have elderberries all over the back yard. I'm hoping to get some established in the chicken run next.

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  20. Oh look at that gorgeous colour. Love it.

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