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 cant 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 beat 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 it up and allow them to simmer in there for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain through a find mesh strainer. Quick and easy elderberry juice for all your home made medicine!