(Originally published in August 2015, post updated in August 2021)
It’s a bumper crop year for elderberries here in Nebraska, it appears. Just this morning, I was on my way home from dropping off my restaurant orders to my business partner Gene. He did the deliveries this week, so I was tooling along on the gravel road toward home, enjoying the lovely morning and putting together my to-do list in my head.
Suddenly I saw the gleam of ripe clusters of elderberries in the ditches ahead of me. My mind racing, I glanced over my shoulder into the back seat to see if I had anything that I could put elderberries in. I was so excited.
(I need to get out more, I’ll admit.)
As luck would have it, Mack and I had come home from Walmart just last night and–bone tired as we both were–agreed to put away all the non-perishable purchases tomorrow (which was today). Aaaand, as luck would have it, again, we hadn’t done it: Huzzah for us!
Therefore, I had four plastic Wal-mart bags. I brought Douglas to a skidding stop (our SUV: another story on the name) in a cloud of dust and unceremoniously dumped the contents out of the Walmart bags and stuffed the empty bags into my pockets.
Twenty-five minutes later, I climbed back into Douglas, just a little scratched from my sojourn into the ditches and smiling in satisfaction. I had enough elderberries for several batches of winter tonic. You know, frankly, it amazes me that folks aren’t out tromping all over the countryside, fighting over the wild fruits like elderberries that are out there.
I guess not enough folks know that elderberries are:
- packed full of antioxidants
- a tonic for the immune system
- cardiovascular tonic
- a diuretic
The elderflowers, which proceed the berries, are full of health benefits, too!
Speaking of school. (Were we?) Little Mack asked me yesterday when we were going to start up our home school. I looked at him blankly for a moment, thinking “School? Already? When there are so many elderberries to pick and process?” That’s not what I said, though. I said “School! School? Oh, yeah–school! I can’t wait–I think–next week, how does that sound?”
I confessed to Amalia, with a shudder, later: “I’m not ready to start school yet!” She laughed and said “Mom, you’re never ready to start school!” Which. Is. True. Why, I ask you, does school have to start at the most delicious time of year, when the nights are becoming cool again, and are perfect for star-gazing? Even the bugs are beautiful and fascinating, harvest season in the garden and the fields and the wild areas is just beginning, and the days are sunny and pleasant! Who has time for sitting down inside at the table, staring at piles of books??
Two words: Not. Me.
*after some reflection . . . *
Two more words: Outdoor School. That’s what I’m thinking. 🙂 In the Woods School. At the Picnic Table School. Picking Elderberries School. 🙂 On the Bikes School. Yes, I think we can make this work. 🙂 School is a very broad term at our house.
Very Broad, indeed.
Learning happens everywhere, doesn’t it? And with just the tiniest bit of forethought, little bits and pieces of learning can make for a great education. A good history reader, after all, can be tucked into a backpack and read in the waiting room, while Mom has her eye appointment (it will take longer than you think). Sketchbooks can be carried anywhere, those daily sketches done in the car or during church (it helps me listen, don’t laugh). Math can be done outside, on the picnic table, as long as you can ignore the bluebird scouts that happen through one morning, the funny little Icelandic roos that are beginning to crow now and sound like dear rusty hinges, the dog that is whining plaintively for a walk, the bald eagles that soar overhead now and then . . .
Okay, kids, we’d better move inside to do math . . . *siiigh* . . .
But anyway. I’m scrambling here a bit this week, since we’ve been picking wild elderberries and wild plums and rose hips to make into our precious cache of wild foods for winter. I’m thankful for all this activity out and about, inside and out.
The weather is beginning to turn–it’s getting almost cool at night, and it’s so pleasant to turn attention from a weedy, grasshopper-bopping garden to the wild areas around our home, and harvest the lovely jewels like these . . . .
I hope you’re getting out there and finding them, too, gentle reader. Remember to ask for permission to pick, and watch out for areas that might be sprayed by the farmer or the rabid weed-control guys.
Here’s my elderberry winter tonic recipe that I promised you earlier this week. You can use fresh elderberries, or if it’s not the right time of year for elderberry harvest or if they don’t grow in your area, you can buy them at Mountain Rose Herbs (affiliate link). Be aware that the recipe is slightly different if you use the dried elderberries.
The only tedious thing about making this winter syrup is the stemming of the elderberries, but I have one handy tip for this task: mindless entertainment. The kids and I never turn on the t.v. during the day, unless we’re working on a tedious task together that can be done with one eye on Sherlock. Or a Downtown Abbey rerun. Or a M*A*S*H, if we’ve only got 20 minutes or so. Yesterday both Amalia and Mack asked me if we were going to work on elderberries (“please, Mom? Can’t we work on elderberries today?” 🙂
Thank you, Mindless Entertainment. 🙂
It almost feels like we’re getting away with something, enjoying our elderberry stemming so, so much. 😉
I just love Sherlock. If Mack joins us, there are certain episodes that we don’t watch, because they are a bit too grim. What am I saying? Some episodes are too grim for me.
This is something else we’re re-watching. Fun, entertaining, weird, and David Tennant. What could be better?
This happened at our place yesterday afternoon: Me: Oh, my, well, I need to vacuum the living room and finish up the dishes first before I can settle down to stem the elderberries-–” Little Mack: *sighs* Okay Mom, I can do the vacuuming and I’ll ask Amalia to help do the dishes so we can do the elderberries quicker . . . ” I am not making this up. It happened.
Cross my heart.
But, back to the winter tonic. This is a very strong syrup and can be taken every day as an immune booster (1 tsp per day for adults, half that for kiddos) or added to fizzy drinks or used in any way that you’d use other sweet syrups. On pancakes or yogurt or cottage cheese. It’s just lovely to have in the ‘fridge all winter long. It’s a delightful taste of fall that will nourish you through the winter months, if you get on it and make it now, before the birds eat all the elderberries.
Those birds. They aren’t out there worrying about viruses, I can tell you that.
If you don’t have the time to make it right now, you can always stick the stemmed elderberries in the freezer and make it later, if you have the freezer space available. (I don’t.)
Elderberry Winter Tonic
- 1 cup fresh elderberries, washed thoroughly and stems removed, or 2/3 cup dried*
- 1 cup water (or if using dried elderberries, make it 3 cups of water)
- 2 Tb fresh ginger (grated) or 1 tsp dry
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 cup honey (local and raw, if possible)
- Bring berries, spices, and water to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer.
- Cover and simmer for 20 minutes (or 45 minutes if using dried elderberries). (Word to the wise: don’t go out to the garden while this is happening, because invariably it WILL boil over and your son will shriek mightily from the kitchen and you will bolt back to the house, thinking that he has had a horrific accident. You will be relieved that he is not mangled in some way, but your stovetop will be, I’ll warrant, a distressing mess.)
- Strain out elderberries, pushing on them with a wooden spoon to get all the juice out.
- Let cool.
- Stir in honey.
- Decant into bottles or jars and keep in the refrigerator. Lasts for months.
- Use in drinks, on ice cream, pancakes, etc., or just take 1 tsp per day as a health-building tonic.
This winter tonic will help sustain you through the winter months, when you are recalling lovely days like this one . . .
Stay healthy, friends. <3
I love ya, I mean it.
More from my site
- Treasure in the Ditches: Time to Forage for Wild Elderberries!
- How to shuck sweet corn–fast!–from an ole’ pro