Elderberries are an important part of how I keep my family healthy all winter long. Elderberry oxymel, syrup, jelly, vinegar, mead…the list goes on. They’re easy to pick off the bushes in large clusters, and yields can be heavy in an established home patch or in your favorite backwoods foraging spot.
The trick is, once you’ve picked them, how do you process them into tasty food and medicine?
The first time I found wild elderberries, I searched high and low for a way to process and use them raw. I wanted to get the tasty juice, but I also wanted to keep the seeds for planting.
It turns out, you really can’t have it both ways with elderberries. I wasn’t even deterred when I learned that elderberry juice is toxic when consumed raw.
I was determined to juice them raw to keep the seeds intact, and then cook the juice to destroy the toxin. I tried and failed with a chinois sieve, food mill and fruit press.
Those tiny little berries just don’t want to let go of their juice. In truth, they’re mostly seed by volume, and those seeds clogged up everything. I nearly broke my food mill after just a few minutes.
I’ve relented. Each year now, I save aside a bit of the berries for planting. Either left out for the birds to eat and spread or scarified in a blender and then scattered directly.
Elderberry seeds need to be “scarified” before planting, meaning they have to be beaten up a bit. This keeps them from dropping directly under the mother plant and competing. Passing through a bird’s digestive system enables them to germinate, and a food processor helps to simulate that effect by nicking the seeds to stimulate germination.
The rest of the berries go right into the pot for cooking. I’ve never had a problem quickly stripping them off the stems with my hands, but I’ve heard that it’s much easier to remove them if you freeze the berry clusters first. Either way, strip them off into a pot, add about half an inch of water and bring it to a quick boil.
Stir the berries vigorously, lid them up and allow them to simmer in there for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Quick and easy elderberry juice for all your homemade medicine!
How would I use the juice to make syrup, gummies & jelly?
Good question. Here’s information on making both elderberry syrup and gummies. And here’s my elderberry jelly recipe.
Thank you so much!
Can I store the elderberry juice in the fridge and then reheat to make elderberry mead a few days later? The elderberries are ready to pick now but I’m waiting on the champagne yeast to arrive. Love your blog btw
Yes, that should totally still work!
Can I juice poke berry fruit the same way ?
PS … my elderberry plant flowered but didn’t fruit . Am I doing something wrong ?
Poke fruit is toxic so far as I know? I wouldn’t recommend eating it.
If they didn’t actually set fruit, it could be a pollination issue, soil fertility issue or just a dry year. (We had pretty severe drought here, and they need a good bit of water.)
What is the best water-elderberry ratio for juice?
You really just want enough water in the bottom of the pot to keep them from scorching while they cook. Just place about an inch of water in the bottom and you will be fine.
Do you think I could pass elderberries through my cold press juicer and then cook the juice to make syrup? I am trying to find an answer but all I am finding is steam juicing.
It is really difficult for elderberries to “give up the juice” without the added heat which is why most people use steam juicing. The only way to know if it will work is to just give it a try. Let us know how it turns out.
Thank you for posting your wisdom
Are dried elderberries good to use as well? I’ve dried mine
This post just shows you how to juice fresh elderberries which you will then use in your elderberry recipes. You can use dried elderberries for most recipes as well, they just need to be rehydrated. What is it that you’re wanting to make with your elderberries?
While I haven’t yet found elderberries, I DO have beautyberries and their processing for juice seems similar (boil and squish). Can I ask: you say a half inch of water to begin the boil…but that is a ratio against what amount (volume or weight) of elder/beautyberries? Thank you for your wine instructions – I have made your mango wine and it was amazing! Now I’m doing peach….but beautyberry is next, so….
It’s not really a ratio so much as it is just enough water to keep the berries from scorching in the bottom of the pan.
Thank you for your post on juicing elderberries. How long will the juice keep in the refrigerator before it is processed?
It should keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
How much juice would I use to make elderberry syrup?
You can use any amount of elderberry juice that you like. Here is a link to a post on elderberry syrup which gives you the ratio of juice and honey to use. https://practicalselfreliance.com/elderberry-syrup/