October 23, 2020

Elderberries for the Natural Medicine Cabinet

For the past couple of months, I've been working on late summer and autumn harvested herbs to fill my herbal medicine cabinet. One of those is elderberry (Sambucus); actually a fruit with medicinal properties. It's well-known for it's healing support for colds and flu.

August was my month to harvest the berries. I was thrilled that my berry nets worked and I harvested so many clusters of elderberries. 

I froze quite a few and dehydrated some too. Of the fresh berries, I made two preparations: elderberry vinegar and elderberry tincture.

Herbal vinegars are nice because they can be used as culinary vinegars: as salad dressing, in cooking, marinade, switchel, etc., or wherever vinegar is called for. Yet they contain the medicinal goodness of the herb. They're also very easy to make. 

Fill a jar about ¾ full of fresh elderberries and cover completely with your choice of vinegar. The vinegar should cover the berries with about an inch to spare. Give the jar a shake once a day or so.

Compare the photos above and below. Above is freshly made, below is about a week later. You can see the color change in the vinegar.

It's stored in a cool dark place for a minimum of two weeks. I made a quart and strained out the first pint after two weeks. 

I'll strain the rest after we use up the first. 

I also made elderberry tincture. It has a longer shelf life than the vinegar, and is used for medicinal dosing. I finally strained it the other day. You can read how I make an herbal tincture, here.

Squeezing the berries with a wine press.

One other preparation folks like to make is elderberry syrup. I thought about it, but it has a shorter shelf life than either the vinegar or tincture. I wasn't sure we could consume it in a timely manner, so I didn't make it for now. I figure I can always do it later from my frozen berries. 

Of the frozen berries I'll make jelly this winter (a favorite). And who knows, maybe I'll try my hand at elderberry wine(?) I certainly have an abundance to experiment with.


Boud said...

Elderberry! My go to remedy for colds and flu. You should make elderberry wine! It can be quite potent..

Pioneer Woman at Heart said...

We planted two elderberry plants years ago, but they were small and the deer totally ruined them. We plan on replanting next year, but will search for larger ones. In the meantime, I have to buy dried berries online. My husband has a friend with trees, but we have yet to contact him to see if we can come pick them.

Leigh said...

Boud, potent as in .....? lol (Medicinally, of course!)

Kristina, this is the first year I got a decent harvest, although not because of deer, because of birds! The net bags really helped there. The deer we have had always seemed to zero in on our sweet potatoes and beets!

Ed said...

I don't think I've ever seen an elderberry even though we live in a zone that supports them. Do they grow wild where you are or are they all domesticated?

Tinctures are way out of my range of knowledge. What are they supposed to cure or aid in your health?

Cockeyed Jo said...

Yes, I've got mine!

Leigh said...

Ed, both. They grow in the wild here, but I planted some too.

Tinctures are simply a means of extracting and preserving the medicinal properties of an herb. So, for example, peppermint tea is traditionally used for flatulence and upset stomach. A peppermint tincture could be used if one had no peppermint for tea.

Jo, good for you!

Charlotte Boord said...

Can the leftover berries be used for anything? Since they've been soaked in vinegar, could you put them in the compost pile?

Mama Pea said...

We haven't had much luck with our elderberries. Planted five and only one has survived. But the birds certainly do appreciate that one as they always get to the berries before we do. We need to put a better plan in place if we ever expect to have enough of them to actually use and gain the benefit of them. Glad your harvest was so good this year!

Leigh said...

Charlotte, I haven't put leftover berries in the compost because I'm not sure how viable the seeds are after soaking in vinegar or vodka. IOW, I don't want to accidentally plant elder bushes in my garden beds! Instead, I've been taking the seeds to places in our woods where I wouldn't mind growing more bushes and scattering them there. So they'll either grow, feed somebody, or decompose right where they are. :)

Mama Pea, funny how some plants do better some places than others. You need lots if you have birds who help themselves! If it wasn't for my netting bags, I likely wouldn't have gotten many again this year (and I do have five bushes!)

Renee Nefe said...

when I tried to click on the Tincture link, it went to my own blogger page. I had to search your page for tincture to get there. I'm so glad your elderberry harvest was so plentiful. I hope it keeps you healthy until your next harvest. :D

Leigh said...

Renee, thanks for the heads up. I fixed it. I think it was one of the quirks of the new blogger. Or rather, something I hadn't figured out yet!

Renee Nefe said...

One can never tell with Blogger what you're gonna get. ;) We just had our first substantial freeze...time to pull all the plants and put them on the compost heap. Sad the bunnies were loving hopping around the zucchini plants. I did manage to get a few this year, but I won't be buying that brand of plants ever again...very poor producers. I had better luck growing from seeds.

wyomingheart said...

Great post,Leigh! If it is to set for two weeks, is that after shaking once a day, or part of the two week sittings? I did spy elderberries on the edge of a wooded area of our new acreage, and we will definitely be anxious for next year! Do you keep the tincture at room temps, or refrigerator temp? Thanks for this wonderful information! Have an awesome weekend!

Rosalea said...

Great info, as always Leigh. I spotted a bush down at the bottom of our hill. It was loaded. I went down to harvest some when the berries were ripe, and the bush was stripped! I think the birds got them. It was a very difficult to access spot on the edge of the creek, and I was wondering how I was going to get them...hip waders came to mind!

Leigh said...

Hmm. Blogger ate my first reply!

Renee, yes, the new blogger interface never ceases to amaze me; and we'll just leave it at that!

I'm amazed that you've gotten a garden-killing freeze, but then, it is late October.

Wyomingheart, shaking the jar is included in the two weeks for vinegars (or six weeks for tinctures). Both vinegar and vodka are good preservatives, so their preparations can be kept at room temp. Most sources recommend a dark cabinet or dark bottles. Herbal vinegars, especially, would make nice gifts!

Rosalea, yes, birds love elderberries! And they don't mind them green, so we humans really don't have a chance, lol. But they'd be worth wading the creek for. :)

Goatldi said...

That is a lot of Elderberries ! And with that said since we tend to have similar growing seasons I am wondering if our climate would support elderberries. I have never seen them in a nursery but to be honest I haven't asked.

Good for you I will expect no sneezes from your neck of the woods this winter. lol

Leigh said...

Goatldi, it would certainly be worth a try to grow some! I think I mail ordered mine, although it took several years (and the net bags!) to get a decent harvest.

Goatldi said...

Could you share where you got them?
I did do a little research and apparently they will grow in California in this area and I’ve always been under the impression that Oregon was the first state that it would work in that it’s too warm down here and that’s hard thing but apparently not and I started looking and there’s a lot to choose from and I’d like a little more information you can send me an email if you’d rather thank you very much.

Leigh said...

Email on the way, but for anyone else who is interested, I think I got them from Stark Bros. Nursery. It was so long ago I don't really remember!