Elderberry has been chosen “Herb of the Year” for 2013 by the International Herb Association. The IHA is a professional trade association providing educational, service and development opportunities for those involved in herbal endeavors. The Herb of the Year is chosen based on being outstanding in at least two of the three major categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative.
One of the favorite wintertime heirloom herbs, elderberry has pretty flowers, fragrance, nutritious berries and benefits wildlife such as deer, squirrels and many birds. This native species is commonly called American elder or elderberry and its European relative S. nigra is known as European elder or black elder. The genus name, Sambucus is derived from the Latin sambuca, a musical instrument and Native Americans called the elder the "tree of music" and made flutes from branches cut in spring and dried with the leaves attached. The common name elder comes from eldrum meaning fire because of its dry, pity stems used as kindling. Native Americans also used the twigs in basketry and the branches to make arrows. The highly prized elder provided dried berries as a winter staple, teas, a black hair dye, numerous treatments including for fevers, joint pain and skin problems, plus the ripened berries signaled wheat planting season!
Elderberry is a shrubby, multi-stemmed deciduous plant (except in Florida) growing to 12 feet with silvery smooth bark and compound dark green leaves with jagged edges, both of which are poisonous. Hardy to zone 3, it requires moist soil in full sun or part shade and should be planted in pairs to ensure bigger yields of blooms and berries.
By its second year, saucer-sized flat-topped clusters of lacy white flowers will announce the arrival of summer, have an unmistakable sweet vanilla fragrance and often cover the entire shrub. Flowers may be picked in full bloom and used fresh, pickled or dried.
By fall, the shrubs are covered with purplish-black shiny and juicy berries which can be harvested by cutting the cluster from the bush and freezing, then stripping or shaking off the fruit. Elderberry is best planted in a naturalistic setting designated for native butterfly and bird species and can get out of control if it is not pruned regularly after 3 years.
Delicious treats can be made from elderberry’s blossoms and berries. The flowers are edible and make a nice hot tisane or a refreshing drink when soaked in lemon juice overnight. The flower heads are also used to make fritters by dipping in a light batter, frying and sprinkling with sugar and cinnamon. Dried fruits are less bitter than fresh, tasting a little like blackcurrants, and can be used to make jams, jellies, sauce, syrup, wine and even soup. They go well with apples and dried can be used the same way as currants in pies, cobblers, muffins and relishes. The berries are very nutritious and richer in vitamin C than oranges or tomatoes plus contain antioxidants that enhance the immune system – they have even been effective in flu prevention.
1c fresh or 1/2c dried elderberries
1c raw honey
1 cinnamon stick
thin slice of fresh ginger
Place berries, water, and spices in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Smash the berries to release remaining juice and strain the mixture. Allow liquid to cool and stir in honey. Will last for 2-3 months stored in the fridge and can be used to ward off illness or drizzled over pancakes, yogurt or ice cream.
2 chopped onions
2c brown sugar
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp mustard seed
1 clove garlic
1tsp cayenne pepper
Bruise the berries, then combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer stirring until it thickens.
". . . I have given you all things even as the green herbs."