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Elderberry Recipes

Sambucus Nigra

Elderberries image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.netElderberries image courtesy of

You've likely seen Elder bushes/trees growing all over the place, in hedgerows and on waste ground - they don't seem to mind what little soil there is and will grow big all the same! The Elder tree is considered magical with all manner of rhymes and stories associated with it, I'm not generally superstitious but 'Burn it not or cursed be...' is a warning I don't wish to tempt!

Elderberries, and their flowers, can be something of an acquired taste but even if you're not a fan of the flavour it's still worth stashing a couple of bottles away for it's superior health benefits! Elder berries are the basis of Sambucol, and have been tested to be effective against many strains of the virus Influenza including the much feared H1N1. In some instances it was even deemed MORE effective than Tamiflu! It's funny how nature seems to still have the answer to the natural evolution of virus species if we would just trust it more.


How to Identify:

Elder in flower earlier in the yearElder is fairly widespread throughout England and Wales though not quite so much in the far North of Scotland. 

The large pointed oval leaves and fast growth of the Elder often stand out from its usual neighbours of Blackthorn and Hawthorn, more obvious of course when in flower or dripping with clusters of small dark berries. The leaves themselves have a finely serrated edge and are arranged in opposite pairs along the branch stems ending in one single leaf. 



Elder is fairly well identifiable with its downward drooping berry clusters (no the photo is not upside down!) yet there are some poisonous plants that could be confused to the untrained eye. Dwarf Elder holds its berry clusters upright, and Dogwood has similarly shaped leaves but the berries are not produced in the same kind of umbrella arrangement.

Another useful way to spot a Dogwood is the carefully split the leaf in half horizontally - when the halves are gently pulled apart they will be held together by strings from their prominent veins. As with all wild foods make sure that you are 110% sure that you have properly identified the plant you are gathering from and that you have permission from the landowner!


It is similar in appearance to another white flowered tree, the Rowan but with a more chaotic growing style and wider leaves.


So what do you do with them? Elder berry recipes:

Elder berries can be eaten in small amounts raw, though they're bitter with a hard pip inside so you wouldn't want many that way anyway. The pips actually contain traces of the toxin cyanide and raw elder can also have laxative effects so go easy either way! ;) Once cooked elder berries are safe in larger volumes. Beware of the staining power of these mighty little berries!

You could make them into a tangy compote to go with Scones or desserts, swirl some with a little honey into yogurt for breakfast, sandwich between sponge Victoria style or follow the instructions below and bottle some as a syrup or cordial drink... 


Elderberry Pastries - foraging recipes

They make an impressive yet simple pastry using sheets of puff pastry sweetened with sticky honey (whether to opt for homemade or frozen sheets is up to you), click here for the recipe.


I also like to have a bag of dried berries stashed away in my medicine bag, which can be boiled to make tea if we run out of syrup.


Elderberry Syrup/Cordial recipe

Elderberry Cordial & Syrup - foraging recipesWe try to avoid high sugar recipes where we can, or often substitute the sugar for healthier varieties like birch based Xylitol, Maple syrup or honey but for preservation purposes it is unfortunately VERY necessary.

Citric acid is also necessary for preservation, especially if you are planning on keeping your syrups and cordials for a whole year which will allow you to continue enjoying your favourite fruit until it's back in season again. Use fresh lemon juice or powdered citric acid.

So what is the difference between a syrup and a cordial? A syrup is a much thicker solution so essentially you just need to keep simmering the water away until it begins to thicken. Remember that sugar solutions will always stiffen up further once cooled. 

Note: Elderberry syrup can be made from frozen or even dried berries (rehydrated before starting the recipe) so if you don't have everything you need to bottle it now, freeze in tubs or dry them in either a dehydrator or in the oven on it's lowest setting with the door ajar. 


Cooking Elderberries - foraging recipes1. Separate the berries from the stems and pick over to remove any that are unripe or pest damaged. Put into a large heavy based saucepan or stock pot with enough water to almost cover the berries but not too much that you'll be boiling it for days! 

Cover and simmer your elderberries for about an hour, stirring occasionally until the berries have softened and the juice runs flows dark. It's a potent smelling brew! 


straining Elderberries for syrup making - foraging recipe2. Allow to cool slightly and strain through a sieve or muslin bag, the less pulp you squeeze through the clearer the result will be. If I'm making into a jam or compote I squeeze as much of the goodness as I possibly can but it's messy business so have a bowl ready to wash your stained hands! ;)


3. Weigh out your sugar and add to the cleaned saucepan along with the juice. As with all preservation recipes you need to conduct a little maths depending on what quantity of juice you actually have to work with, ideally you want a 65-75% sugar solution. Almost 3/4 cup of sugar to every cup of juice - yeah I said it's a lot!

Heat until all sugar is dissolved for a cordial, and further reduce for a more concentrated syrup.


Bottled Elderberry syrup - foraging recipe3. Add a squeeze of lemon juice/citric acid if using and bottle whilst hot into sterilised bottles, sealing immediately. A funnel helps here, and be careful not to spill any on your skin as syrups can cause serious burns!

I like to reuse miniature wine bottles if they're still in good condition, though since the seal cannot be fully guaranteed the second time around they should ideally be refrigerated and always used first.


A properly bottled syrup should keep without refrigeration for a year though beware if it seems fermented or like vinegar when opened. All preserves require strict cleanliness standards to ensure they won't go bad.


Have you used Elderberries before? Or will you be trying this now you've read about it? We'd love to hear from you so leave us a comment below!


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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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