Different varieties of the elder bush are to be found in almost every country, and are often such energetic growers they are looked upon as a weed, when in fact twice a year the bush, or elder tree as it is also known, produces some of the easiest of free harvests to be found.
Traditionally Germans are enthusiastic about wild food foraging, so throughout Germany, late spring's Elderflowers and autumn's Black Elderberries are gathered in abundance, and used for all types of recipes, savory and sweet, from puddings, jellies and jam to liqueurs and syrups.
However as satisfying for our taste buds as these are, there are other benefits to be gained when they are included in our diet.
Black elderberries especially are known for their medicinal properties and, wherever in the world they were grown, folklore has recommended them, as a protection against influenza for example, for centuries. Now present day research has established that elderberry extract is indeed a clinically proven treatment for colds and flu symptoms, as well as other illnesses, while also packed with vitamins A, B and C, as well as minerals, including iron.
Elderberries are not black really but more a very dark purple and should not to be eaten raw, except by birds and squirrels, because some elements are indigestible. Nevertheless once cooked, in whatever form the recipe takes, this is no longer a problem.
Easily found in sunny hedgerows, once the weight of the ripe elderberries begins to pull the bunches downwards in autumn it means they are ready to pick, so cut them off just below the stalks.
Use a fork to gently separate the fruit from the stalks and remove any green berries. This is the time consuming part, but it is not a problem if a few little pieces of thin stem are left.
Place elderberries in a bowl of iced water, any stray pieces, leaves, bugs etc., will then float to the surface, pour water off, add fruit to a colander and rinse under cold running water.
Here is a traditional German Elderberry Syrup, or Elderberry Cordial, Recipe.
BLACK ELDERBERRY SYRUP RECIPE
4 lbs Elderberries
Sugar (Brown cane if possible, but white granulated works as well)
2 x 2 inch pieces cinnamon stick
2 chips nutmeg
Add elderberries to a large pan together with the spices and just cover with water
Bring to boil.
Cover and simmer slowly until the juice runs out and they are easy to crush, this usually takes 20 - 25 minutes.
Using a jelly bag, piece of muslin or a fine sieve strain off all the juice.
The fruit, called Holunderbeeren in most of Germany but known as Fliederbeere in the north of the country, can be left to drip for a while so that you extract as much juice as possible.
After removing the spices you can press the mass with the back of a spoon, just to help it along.
Measure the juice and add a pound of sugar for every pint of juice. (These are the usual proportions, but after you have made the syrup for the first time it will be easy to judge if you wish to use less for your next batch).
Bring the mixture back to the boil, stirring to prevent the sugar burning. When it is the consistency of a thick syrup (usually about ten minutes), remove from heat, skim off any white film on the surface and allow to cool.
Pour into sterilized glass bottles and screw down lids tightly.
Elderberry cordial will last about a year if stored somewhere cool and dark, and also freezes well in plastic containers.
It is important to add that using an aluminum pot is not a good idea, as there is always a risk that next time you cook pasta it may turn out to be a "rose" color even before adding tomato sauce.
And the same applies to anything you use for stirring.
Now your foraged elderberries have become "Elderberry Syrup", what happens next?
Well there is the medicinal side, "Elderberry Benefits" - At the first sign of a cold, flu, cough, bacterial or viral infection a tablespoon every 2-3 hours for adults or a teaspoonful every 2-3 hours for children.
It's an alternative medicine which reduces nasal swelling and congestion and helps sinus drainage, has been proved to shorten infections, while there are few spoonfuls of 'medicine' that taste this good.
And it is "Just To Enjoy":
Elderberry syrup, or cordial, is great neat with crushed ice, in a glass, one third cordial, one third soda or apple juice over ice and topped up with water.
There is a "Kir" version in cold sparkling wine, or it can be added to vodka, gin, brandy, Martini or Campari with soda or tonic water to taste.
Warm in a mug, diluted with hot water, it's a drink which tastes a bit like mulled wine. Especially if some cloves or ginger are added, and then it is a real winter "pick-me-up".
Drizzled over plain yogurt, cheese cake, apple crumble or Kaiserschmarrn, as a topping for vanilla ice cream, pancakes and waffles.
A colorful and flavorful glaze when cooking chicken or pork.
While it makes a great base for a sorbet, Slushie or a cream based dessert, as well as for a wild game sauce.
There are not only benefits for your health from elderberry syrup there are many other tasty ways to use the finished cordial, so it really is worth foraging for and harvesting wild plants, and that labor intensive hour you then spent separating the berries from their stems.