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65 responses to “Elderberry Season is Here”

  1. Josh

    Cool article.

    You might be interested in a little anecdotal history – the prevalence of elderberries around here is a “new” phenomenon, by which I mean that ‘when I was a kid’ there were far fewer bushes around, but in the past 10-15 years, there have been a number of rehabilitation projects because of the endangered status of the Valley Elderberry Longhorn beetle (it’s nice to remember the unintended consequences of things like the Endangered Species Act).

    Also, I’d like to point out that, at least around Northern California, the edible elderberries are mexican, or blue, elderberries (Sambucus mexicana), and are red when unripe, whereas the red elderberries around here, ripe or no, are toxic (the jury is still out on how toxic, but I don’t want to be the guy who finds out). I’ve yet to see them down in the Valley, but I have seen them in the Sierra. My advice is to stay away from the berry bunches unless you know them to be blue, or until they turn blue. It’s nice to get to know a place, and know which bushes will have blue berries, anyway.

    I’ve found them to have a powdery substance on them when they are most ripe.

    As for other things to do, I’ve read about folks frying the flowers, and elderberry pancakes.

  2. matt

    whenever I think of elderberries I always think of Monty Python.. I don’t see you as a jelly making kind of guy, but I reckon it is going to be bloody good – seems like you are good at anything in the kitchen!

    Looking forward to hearing what the berry-booze is like.

  3. Heebert

    Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!

  4. fishes and loaves

    Thanks for the post! I also pass by an elderberry bush regularly and have been monitoring it’s progress. I haven’t yet decided what I will do with my little treasured pearls of fruit and with your addition to my growing list I’ve a dilemma. So many options, so little fruit.

  5. Will Huenink

    Make wine! It is true that fruit wines are wrongfully, widely and viciously disdained. I’ve been looking, lately, for a source (anything, really) which both takes fruit wines seriously and gives them a useful treatment, above and beyond the usual beer-manual appendix. I’m curious to see what you’d do!

  6. Tina

    Here in Pennsylvania, elderberries are just blooming right now. We won;t have ripe berries until late August or early September. We really have a profusion of bushes in my area, so I’ll be picking as soon as I spot them ripening.

    Personally, I love elderberry pie and elderberry jelly. Your batch of jelly that didn’t jell would make a great topping for some homemade vanilla ice cream or added to some yogurt, if you don’t use all of it for Cumberland sauce. By the way, did you use straight elderberry juice, or did you add apple to the mixture? Many of the recipes I’ve seen use apples to increase the amount of pectin. I’ve done it both ways, but usually small batches, no no jelling problems.

    I hadn’t considered the idea before, but elderberry liqueur would be really good; I’ve already got a batch of citrus liqueur working, and I’m waiting on local raspberries for the same purpose (among many other uses).

  7. Lang

    Elderberries up here (east slope of WA Cascades) are an August thing. They’re often ripening around the same time as mountain thimbleberries. I missed the flowers this year due to our Rocky Mt sojourn, but plan to nab a bucket o’ berries later in the summer. Great post, Hank!

  8. Debbie

    These berries have an enzyme which prevents gelling. You really need to add a few unripe berries and/or a strip of lemon rind with the pith attached to boost the pectin levels.

    I had the same problem with redcurrants until I discovered that the lemon rind works perfectly and gives a nice “lift” to the finished jam or jelly. I don’t like adding apple as it changes the texture – well to my little tastebuds anyway.

    The bonus is that if you remove the rind at the end and let it drain on parchment paper, you have a tasty little snack (a sort of candied fruity chew) for yourself as well as delicious jam/jelly.

  9. Laura

    Thanks for the elderberry conversation! I grew up in the foothills of the Sierras. Every summer we went up the road towards Wright’s Lake and plucked bunches of the sweet ripe beauties. The berries in higher elevations are always sweeter than those in the valley. I never heard of any toxicity issues of ripe berries. Please tell me more!

  10. Lunarmedia Blogs » Elderberry Jelly

    […] Grail, or if older perhaps a Cary Grant film. So it was much to my surprise to learn from my friend Hank that elderberries grow wild all along the American River, less than half a mile from my home. We […]

  11. Jodie

    Your elderberries will be your best bet during the flu pandemic – from all that I’ve been reading, they could make a real difference – I’m planning on preparing mine for their medicinal benefits – still researching but at “such a time as this”, these little guys will be invaluable.

  12. Kathy

    I live in PA where my family has a little patch of green out of town. We have several very fine patches of elderberries there and I would love to find a good recipe for elderberry pie. Anyone?

  13. sue

    In the Suffolk UK and just harvested many little fiddly deep blue and juicy elderberries from the headgerow boundary in my garden I’m brewing up an apple ( using local apple juice) and elderberry jelly and have added sprigs of fresh garden mint for a little twist. Adding peel of a bramley cooking apple for pectin – so let’s see?

  14. Sue

    Says who the stems are bitter and mildly toxic? I decided to try NOT picking berries off the stems, and made juice using whole heads of stems and berries. I will try it unless I can find documentation of a reason not to. If anyone has this info, Please do share. Thank you!

  15. Sue again

    An update to my own previous comment – I have searched more herbal websites and found more sound advice against using the stems due to higher content of the cyanotoxin. Ok, ok, I will spend the time de-stemming them to avoid a stomach ache.

  16. joyce

    i have a question. i made elderberry jelly. it tuned out bitter. i went back to the berry to tasted them. the berries are bitter, which inturned made the jelly bitter. is there any fix?


  17. Diane Wright

    I have been desteming these berriesand many still have tiny stems attached and some berries are 1/3 green and the lower 2/3 blue to black do these need to be removed also? Would the stems not be removed during straining?

  18. Diane Wright

    Are the stems and somewhat green berries harmful or just bitter?

  19. Chris

    We picked elderberries with a friend back in August–at a lovely u-pick farm. At the time, I had a ton of other projects going and couldn’t deal with the berries, so I just froze them, right on the stems. From talking and reading about other people’s accounts of removing berries from the stems, it seems that freezing them first makes it a heck of a lot easier. Because the berries were frozen, it was easy to grab a bunch as a time without worrying about squeezing them too hard. My fingers didn’t get stained at all. I de-stemmed a gallon’s worth in 15 minutes or so, then put them back in the freezer. I’ll process them in the next week or so–syrup and some jelly, I think.

  20. Bob Furnback

    I use to pick black elderberries along the flood control ditches in the Alvarado Niles district of Santa Clara by the bucket full. My brother and I made wine. I still have cases of this slightly dry berry flavored wine. Last time I was down that way I couldn’t find more that a bush or two and every thing is fenced off. When I was young this was all farm land now it is track after track of people.
    I moved to Alaska in the 80’s I had several red elderberry bushes but they were mealy and terrible tasting, Early in the winter the magpies would get drunk eating them and provide me with the most entertaining clown show.
    Last week I found a bush in the hills above the Carquinez Straits what a treat it is to be here making this jelly that won’t jell.

  21. ryan

    you can dry them on a tray in the sun. and use them in muffins or pancakes later. you can rehydrate them

  22. Nancy

    Greetings. Just finished my first batch of elderberry jelly here in Boise. Am also going to be making some tincture using vodka for flu season. Decades ago my husband made preserves from Sierra elderberries using wild honey and it was delicious. We freeze the berries prior to removing from the stem then refreeze until use. Since winter is late in arriving we are still picking in the hills below 3,500′. Happy preserving and consuming!! Thankfully thankful.

  23. Foraging Elderberries for Jam « savorybaker

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  24. Raewyn

    I make elderflower wine. Bottle half and distill the other half of a 25 litre brewing barrel. When the elderberries are ready I make elderberry wine and syrup. The syrup I back blend with the elderflower brandy and it is popular! Call it the best cough syrup you ever had – natural and full of anti viral goodness. Great over ice-cream – for adults, and a sweet nip for the sweet toothed out there.

    I found your site while in search of a sauce/jam/jelly for venison as I have a request from a hunter who is also a bit of a foodie thanks to his very capable wife – my sister in law.

    I will follow your blog with interest.


  25. becka

    If you Freeze berries with stems then berries come soooooooo much easier cut 1/4 time.

  26. Diane

    I want to make elderberry jam not jelly,because the skins contain most of the nutrients, and use stevia, because it is healthier than sugar, but I cannot find any recipes for this combination. Please let me know if you have a recipe or a reference. Its so exciting to have these healthful berries so readily available. I want to make the best use of them.

  27. Annie Muat

    My husband & I are huge elderberry fans! Loved your informative web site. We have been using a pectin by the name of Pamona’s Universal Pectin and we have had 100% success with the jelling aspect of the process. You can find Pamona’s at health food stores and Whole Foods also carries it. If you would like our jelly recipe let me know and I will gladly share it with you. Sincerely, Annie

  28. Tracey

    I didn’t see this tip in the article or comments, forgive if I missed it and I’m sucking eggs, but you will removed the berries far faster if you strip them off with a fork. Just slide the tines of the fork in between the berries and pull up on the stalks. The berries ping off into the bowl. Hey presto!

  29. Nicole

    We freeze the elderberries after picking them because the berries pop off the stems really easily when frozen…10 minutes to de-stem 10lbs of berries. Flavour is still fantastic.

  30. merriam

    I read most of the comments. I make jelly and do not have a problem with it getting thick and it is beautiful jelly. I also juice my berries in my steamer juicer with the stems and green berries on after washing them in a bath of water and salt removes bugs,with a second clear water rinse. I also remove some by hand to freeze for smoothy’s they are great in icecream to. The blooms can be dipped in sweet batter then deep fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. I live in Oklahoma and have seen them all over the US. Hope you try some of these tips. One more thing depeneing on the strength of the berry juice. I dilute my juice with water to make my jelly 50/50.

  31. Nancy

    Try using crab apples with your elderberry juice, as much as half and half. In Pennsylvania this is common, many old farms have trees with unused fruit, never a problem with having enough pectin for it to jell also made the juice and canned it in the summer and not so bad to heat up the kitchen when it was cold. It was fun to make a turn of jelly and entertain the kids then.

  32. Tom

    I made a great elderberry wine with dried ones bought online. You can give it more of a mouthfeel by adding in some raisins, I use about 1/2 and 1/2. I love fruit wines, but this one is the only one I’ve made yet that I really believe is every bit as good as grape wines. If you feel like you don’t have enough to make wine with, just add some chopped raisins or dried elderberries.

  33. Marilyn Gould

    I now live in France and my cottage has what I have been told are many elderberry trees. I don’t know this plant, we don’t have it in Australia…that i know of. The french think it’s poisonous but the British who have visited told me to make elderberry wine or syrup. The berries have turned from green to red now it’s August 2nd. When should I pick them? I will have bucket loads I am sure. How long will they keep stored for as syrup or jams? It sounds delicious reading all the recipes, and healthy too.

  34. Jenni G.

    Do elderberries ripen on the stems after picking? I picked some berries that were a bit reddish to save them from the birds.

  35. Forrest

    Re: elderberries being toxic. RAW elderberries are a powerful emetic. I know this from personal experience. This is true at least of the Central Sierra berries. They must be cooked before being eaten, like rhuebarb. Repeat: do not eat raw elderberries!

  36. Helen elson

    The easiest way to remove the berries is by useing a fork, pull it down through the berries they come of with no problem, and you don,t get stained hands.

  37. carey

    i live in new orleans, and we are lousy with ripe elderberries right now. and we have been for weeks. what i use is an afro pick- one used to fluff up an angela davis-style fro- the kind with stainless steel tines- so much better than a fork, and far easier to use. btw, i ate raw elderberries several times as a kid, always trying to find ones that were even a little tasty- but never did. it was only when i dared to try my friend’s elderberry syrup which she had been raving about for years that i discovered the incredibly rich taste sensation that had always eluded me before. who could have known that such a bland, unappetizing fruit could have such potential when cooked?! it was quite a revelation, and now i just can’t ever get enough, so i raid every neglected bush i find and put them up to use or give away. what a treat!

  38. Heather Meier

    I just found you by looking for elderberry pie recipe(s) and I have found a very interesting sight but no recipe for pie! I am an ex-pat Canadian living now for some time in Denmark where elderberries grow like mad all over the countryside and fortunately there are several trees on our property in a country village just south of Copenhagen. Elderberries are very popular here and especially the flowers which are made into a drink widely used and available readily in supermarkets. I recall very fondly acquiring the odd homemade berry pie on the Farmers’ Market in London, Ont. and I would dearly love to try my hand at making it myself. We have masses of berries this year which, Ontario Mennonite-style, I do not want to waste otherwise “the trees won’t bloom or bear next year”. Can you help me with at least one recipe? Please! and thanks very much.

  39. Angela Makin

    Hi there,
    Very interesting reading your comments. I live in a southern part of Australia and have grown Sambucus nigra. (European Elderberry) for years, enjoying the wine and syrup. I grow them in large quantities for they are enjoying more popularity than ever. 🙂 Would like to promote this plant more for its medicinal qualities.

  40. Jacki Madewell

    Entering the conversation a little late (ya think?) but elderberries are starting to ripen here. We picked some really black bunches today, and a few bunches (heads?) that had black and dark red berries on them. Okay to make jelly with these? Also, I’m finding it very difficult to get every little stem out of the berries even after “freezing and forking.” There’s so little info on elderberries, so does anyone know if its okay to include the tiny stems while making juice which will be strained before making jelly? Thanks!

  41. Lorena

    So glad to find your site; it and the accompanying comments are a wealth of information! I already freeze my elderberries before I de-stem them, but am eager to try the fork idea (no Afro pick handy just now). Glad to hear that the tiny stems aren’t crazy toxic, as it was driving me crazy trying to get them all out. Here’s my question: we’ve had wild elderberries and “cultivated” ones and none of them have much flavor at all until honey or other sweetener is added. Are there really some varieties that taste sweet when raw? Maybe this is a personal taste bud variance issue … ?

    And here’s a recipe for elderberry custard pie (from The Mennonite Community Cookbook; I’ve also made plain old elderberry pie but we were really turned off by the grit of the seeds):

    1 cup elderberry juice
    1/4 cup flour
    1 cup sugar
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1/4 cup milk
    1 egg, separated
    3/4 cup milk
    pastry for 1 9″ pie crust

    Bring elderberry juice to boiling point. Combine flour, sugar, salt. Add 1/4 c. milk. Add paste to juice and cook till thickened. Remove from heat and add egg yolk and 3/4 cup milk. Fold in stiffly beaten egg white. Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

  42. Taylor

    I just realized that my town is SURROUNDED by blue elderberry bushes, most of which are perfectly ready for picking (3500ft elevation, southern California.)I went out today and gathered somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds from the side of the road, but it took literally hours to process them. I guess I failed to read the hint about freezing -before- trying to remove them from the stems. Oh well! It was novel the first time around, at least. Many of the trees still have green berries, so I’ll try the freeze-first method after the next ripening. Thanks for your tips on this website and to all of you who helpfully commented!

  43. Nmarieras O

    The article was frustrating since here I sit in early October in zone 5, Ohio and the elderberry clusters are in so many stages. Some are blooming, most are small and green, some are red and a few have ripened. Even in the same clusters, if I wait for the berries to get large and black, they fall off or dry before the cluster can be picked. As for the wine, which we have made for years- instead of using fewer berries we have found that the density is such, we have had to cut back. We usually use about 22 pounds of any other type of fruit per five gallon, but for elderberry we use 18.

  44. Diane

    We make up a fresh batch of elderberry juice each year and freeze, take out a pint when needed to keep a supply of elderberry ‘medicine’ handy for flu/colds season. Just add honey and lemon juice. Some add a little ginger as well. I take my dose in a tea. 🙂

  45. Diana

    wondering how to go with removal of green bits in the red elder flowers….. it might take me a month to separate out the flowers if I worry about the little green pre-berry nub in the center……… that part really worth worrying about?

  46. Daryl

    Research has shown that they were a staple of west coast native diet. I’ve made jelly several times and never experienced any problems.

  47. jan

    I’m in Ohio and the green elderberries are falling off the stalks. Could this be because we have had so much rain?

  48. Glynis

    I foolishly followed advice on another website to freeze the heads of elderberries before de-stalking. I ended up with loads more bits of stalk than when I have stripped them off using a fork. Far more than I can pick out now by hand. If I boil and strain the berries for the elderberry rob I plan to make (not sure if you have that in the US – it’s basically a cordial) the stalky bits will be removed but will the juice be toxic. Maybe I will have to go and pick more elderberries and start over. I hope not.

    Thanks for any advice.

  49. Nicole Schreiber

    We freeze our berries (about 40lbs this year, so we can’t deal with them all at once) in clear garbage bags. When they are good and frozen, I’ve learned that by banging (gently,repeatedly) the bag up and down on a flat surface, like a freezer lid, the stems and other debris will “float” up to the top and can simply be lifted away. I get them cleaner this way than when I was doing them fresh, and it doesn’t make a mess. It seemed like a miracle when I discovered this after having spent hours and hours trying to remove stems from fresh berries or trying to go through frozen berries by hand to remove all the bits.

  50. Sarah

    I have a 1915 farmhouse on a large, old, un-spoiled plot of land in The San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, & my neighbors, (who have a similar lot), and I have two large Elderberry Trees that are obviously old, native and wild – which we can’t identify by species. The pale white flowers and toothed, pinnate leaves of five to eleven in number are exactly the same as in countless photos I’ve seen of blue and black Elderberry – – – the difference is, the average-sized berries are medium green and slightly translucent, and even when ripe, they never change colour. I’ve seen this same type of Elderberry growing in other parts of the San Fernando Valley, La Crescenta and in the low-foothills of Griffith Park, between Burbank and Hollywood. Even though perfect for nests, birds never nest in my tree & I’ve never seen a bird eating the green, ripe Elderberry berry nor the dark Elderberry raisin that is left when it dies and shrivels. Can u tell me what species this is? Can the dried flowers be used to make tea, as with blue or black Elder flowers, (which look identical – only the colour of the ripe berry is different), and can these green, ripe Elderberries be used to make medicinal tinctures? Since birds don’t eat these green berries, even when fully ripe, I’m wondering if this is a highly-toxic form of Elder and if u think it’s possible that it could remain toxic, even after being stem-and-seed-strained and cooked. Please weigh in with your expert advice!

  51. Sarah

    Thanks for trying, Hank. If there is ayone else who has ever encountered this, please let me know. I’ve been observing my elderberries in North Hollywood, CA closely for a couple of weeks, since last posting. The berries do develop a whitish-blue ‘bloom’ on the outside, so they look almost identical to pictures I’ve seen of other blue elderberries. The difference is, the berries underneath the pale-blue ‘bloom’ remain green – all the way thru maturity and until the time they begin to shrivel and die. Even when fully ripe, they never turn a dark, purply-blue, underneath the whitish-blue coating – which is the colour I’ve read they should be, when ripe. Birds don’t seem to eat these berries, but they might & I might just be missing it. The birds may eat berries at the top that I just don’t notice…. and birds may prefer the shrivelled raisins – but I haven’t seen birds eating those, either. Should I take this as a sign that these berries could be so toxic that they should not be consumed, even if cooked? Have u ever heard of very old, wild Elderberry species in California where the berries do have the whitish-blue coating but, underneath, remain green even when fully ripe? I wanted to try cooking some up in a compote, but don’t know if I should. Perhaps I’ll try, anyway and let taste be my guide. If too bitter after cooking with the called-for amount of sugar, I’ll have to give up. But hope someone who’s encountered these same berries could shed some light on the subject. Thank you! – Sarah

  52. TMoto

    Thank you for the info about the green/white elderberry variant, Hank. I’m in South Orange County, CA and have found many elderberry with this description as well as the Sambucis Cerulean. I made syrup from the two varieties and look forward to using it.

  53. Carolyn

    Hi, I am from Winnipeg Canada, I have a question. I brought some bushes from Ontario near Toronto. My sister, living near Toronto and I have the same problem. Our green elderberries always disappear off the bushes, and don’t stay until they ripen. I can’t see any bugs. We both have plants from our mother’s bush on the farm which always produced lots of ripe berries.

    Also, do you need two trees to pollinate the flowers?

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