Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More Elderberries

Originally uploaded by Smoobs

We put in two elderberry plants last year as a productive replacement for a long patch of forsythia.  The forsythia had the added benefit of providing a screen for a not terribly attractive lot next door, but the elderberries will do that too once they've grown for a few more years.  We've just added a couple more this year.

Elderberries produce best when they have another variety with which to cross-pollinate.  Sadly, one of the two plants we purchased last year looks to have died, but come back from the rootstock.  This meant we had two plants, but only one of a known variety.  We decided to let the rootstock live, but to add one plant of a variety we know to differ from last year's variety that lived.  So we got a 'goodbarn' elderberry from Fedco this year to go with the 'Johns' that clearly survived from last year.  But we still have space for one or two more elderberries.  So when farming friend offered to let us dig up some of the wild elderberries on her property, we decided to take her up on it.

On Saturday we got two of her wild elderberries.  Her husband informed us that the fruits of these wild plants are very small; about the size of BB gun pellets.  If I only had such wild fruits to look forward to, that would be rather discouraging.  However, I was delighted.  Because you see, the fruits are not the only thing worth harvesting from an elderberry plant.  The blossoms themselves are renowned for their delicate flavor and aroma.  I've had elderflower syrups and essences that have blown my mind.  And heard tales of elderflower fritters made by batter-frying entire clusters of blossoms.  I've also heard of the blooms being used, either during brewing or as an infusion after the fact, to flavor all sorts of alcoholic beverages: champagne, mead, wine, vodka, etc.

I'm definitely interested in taking some elderflower blooms to experiment with, when our plants come into production.  But cutting the flowers will mean less fruit.  With the wild elderberries though, the fruit will be no great loss.  I can leave just a few blooms to cross-pollinate with the better fruit producing varieties.  The rest of the blooms can be used for other things.

Elderberries don't seem to grow much in their first year after planting.  Most likely, they concentrate on root development.  Like many berry bushes, it tolerates some shade, but produces better with at least 6 hours of full sun per day.  They can eventually reach 6 meters in height, though size at maturity varies by the cultivar.  Last year's plantings are already showing vigorous growth this year.  I'm not sure when we'll get our first harvest of either blooms or berries.  But I'd be surprised if we didn't get at least a little sample by next year at the latest.  I'm really looking forward to it.

Aside from the culinary merits of the flowers or berries, elderberry plants have other uses as well.  Sambucus canadensis is one of those "medicine chest" plants.  Soothing ointments and eyewashes can be prepared from its leaves and flowers.  All parts of the plant have been used for various complaints over the years.  Cuttings of elderberry are good for activating a compost pile.  The leaves can be rubbed on skin as an insect repellent.  All around, it's a very promising plant that I'm happy to have as part of our edible and useful landscape.

19 comments:

Cranberry Morning said...

Wow. I'll have to tell my friend about the virtues of the elderberry. They have tons of elderberry bushes on their property that she's been trying to eradicate!

So you're in Pennsylvania, land of the red bud bush, right? the one that can't survive where we live, but I've seen it and admired it so often when we've driven through Pennsylvania.

el said...

I made elderflower champagne/cordial last year and it was so yummy. (They were from wild plants around the property/environs.) Unfortunately we have never seen the berries: they just don't seem to make it until fall around here!

Good luck with them. They're fun.

Katidids said...

Well, I'll have to look them up for growing here! That sounds wonderful and I was looking for another berry to have about the yard. Thank for sharing the info..mind if I link back?

Jennifer Montero said...

I've made elderflower wine once which was truly awful, and elderflower cordial many times which is delicious and easy (my two favorite things!).

On the 'pro' side of harvesting blossoms, you will have less fruit (number of berries) but larger individual fruits, so not necessarily a smaller harvest by weight. And it's easier to pick bigger berries(there's that 'easier' word I love so much).

Have your bees shown interest in elder pollen?

CallieK said...

Does anyone have a recipe for elderflower cordial? We made a signature drink for our harvest celebration last year and we used homemade elderberry syrup but store bought elderflower cordial. I'd love to be able to make both ourselves!

amy said...

I am hoping to get some this year to plant as a screen to section of a
"secret garden" for my daughters. I don't know much about them but am going to research them today. Thanks for the reminder and nice post.

Bellen said...

Birds love elderberry berries so if you want to harvest the berries you will probably have to cover the bushes like you would blueberries.

Also, since the berries are small, one of the easiest ways to harvest is to cut the entire bunch and gently rub them over 1/4-1/2" hardware cloth. Berries, and some stems, will fall thru but they are easy to separate.

Elderberry pie is wonderful and different, elderberry jam or jelly is also very good, elderberry juice is simple to make and delicious.

Overall, a decidedly useful shrub whether for use as a hedge or fruit producer.

Lise said...

What serendipitous timing! I just planted 3 elderberry bushes yesterday. I didn't know the compost info, or the insect-repellent idea. Thanks! I'm a few years behind you, but am looking forward to an eventual harvest.

Lise said...

What serendipitous timing! I just planted 3 elderberry bushes yesterday. I didn't know the compost info, or the insect-repellent idea. Thanks! I'm a few years behind you, but am looking forward to an eventual harvest.

Anonymous said...

Elder trees are considered a weed in the UK. They grow anywhere, so consequently are underrated. There is a lot of folklore and superstition attached to the tree here. It's said you should always tell it what you're about to do to it, and that a self seeded elderberry by your house is lucky.

It is becoming more 'normal' to make elderflower cordial, although eating elderberries is still considered slightly strange.

We make vinegar and cordial and syrup, which make lovely sorbets and ice lollies. It also mixes very well with apple juice or gin. Gin,tonic and elderflower syrup is really delicious!
I also use it with gooseberries a lot- gooseberry and elderflower jam (jelly), crumbles,ice cream, pies...

I have an old farmers wife recipe book that advises making Elderflower ointment for rough skin by infusing the blossoms in melted lard. Haven't tried that one...

Hazel

henbogle said...

Hmmm, I've a couple of elderberries, and I've been tempted to add a "Goodbarn" to my planting. Now I am even more tempted and will need to research recipes for elderberry cordial and syrup.

Sense of Home said...

The elderberry flowers are beautiful. I wish we could grow them in our area, but we live too far north.

We use Sambucol (elderberry extract) when we feel a cold or sore throat coming on and it works great.

Kate said...

Cranberry morning, I always think of them as red bush trees, but yes, they're common where I live. They are standouts in the spring. Probably everyone thinks so about the place they live, but spring truly is spectacular where I live.

El, I can't remember. Did you have a recipe for the cordial on your blog? I'm definitely going to do something with the blossoms as soon as our plants produce some. It probably won't hurt the plants at all to lose all the first blossoms and wait a year on actual berry production.

Katidids, not at all. Why would I mind?

Jennifer, same question for you as for El. Did you ever post a recipe for the cordial on your blog? I'll be looking for them soon enough. Good point too about fewer fruits = larger fruits. So far we don't have any blossoms, so there's nothing for the bees to show an interest in.

CallieK, we'll see if anyone pipes up with mention of a recipe. Making syrup from both the flowers and berries would require work at two different times of year. But that would be really awesome, I agree.

Amy, thanks. I hope your daughters enjoy their secret garden. I would have loved one of those when I was a girl.

Bellen, thanks for the warning, as well as the harvesting suggestions. I'm intrigued to try the latter when there are signs we might get a harvest.

Lise, sounds like you're only a year behind me. I planted my first elderberries last year. The picture of the blossoms isn't mine.

Hazel, it's funny how things that are classified as weeds are so widely disdained as food. In the Pacific northwest of the US, blackberries are the weed from hell. And how many people eat dandelion? Not many in the US. I think I have heard about the folklore and superstitions surrounding the elder plant in the UK, now that you remind me about it. The elder is less known in the US, and so, I think, less disdained. Your elder preparations sound lovely!

Ali, does Fedco ever allow visits? I think they trial their own elderberries. I wonder could you make a visit when the plants are in bloom or ready for berry harvest? You could do your research first hand if that were allowed.

Sense of Home, yes, we have elderberry lozenges for sore throats and coughs too. The berries are definitely regarded well for their help in fighting the common cold. I'm pretty excited to have something like that at my disposal. Some day soon, anyway.

Sarah said...

We have sambucus niger here in the UK and I find the berries the most useful part medicinally because they are such an effective anti-viral. I have a recipe for several elderflower and berry syrups, cordials etc on my blog.

Anonymous said...

I've brewed a sparkling elderflower mead that was amazingly good, but needed several years of bottle age-ing. I also include elderberry syrup in many of my other meads as well... I love the color and knowing that it's good for me. If only all our medicines were so yummy!

Anonymous said...

I meant to say too that elderflower fritters are lovely too. More elderflower-y than dandelion fritters are dandelion-y. I add the yolks and whites separately to the batter, whisking the whites to lighten it a bit, and a drop or two of orange juice or orange flower water in the mixture is nice but not essential. I pick up a cluster of (de-bugged) flowers, dip it in the batter, and fry.Snip off the biggest stems sticking up and flip over.
I've just watched this recipe on BBC iplayer, for an anti-viral jam http://www.bbc.co.uk/tv/features/growyourowndrugs/s2_episode6.shtml
I haven't tried it, but sounds interesting!

Hazel

el said...

Hey Kate, I made both elderflower cordial AND syrup last year. The syrup was a bigger hit because poured over ice and with water added it was a refreshing treat that lasted most of the summer for us. Then the eldeflower cordial got drunk up at Thanksgiving...yum.

here's the linkyloo
http://fastgrowtheweeds.com/2009/06/13/on-hedgerow-foraging/

and apparently you were the first commenter so you *do* remember, right? ;)

Kate said...

Sarah, I wonder how similar the S nigra and S. canadensis are? I suppose there are few people who could say for sure. Thanks for pointing me to your blog for recipes. I'll check them out.

Hazel, I agree. We keep purchased elderberry lozenges on hand for colds and sore throats, but I have to hide them from my husband, otherwise they'd be eaten like candy. Very tasty indeed! Your mead sounds awesome too!

El, I think this is all easily explainable. Last year I'd just put in my elderberries and was looking at years before we'd see any yield. So while I could momentarily admire your bounty, I had to block it out of my memory, lest I pine for it and become too jealous. Thank you, though, for the reminder that the flowers don't show up until June. That means we may yet get a little sample from our bushes this year. A girl can hope! (Oh, and btw, I think I've since developed a bit of a crush on HFW too.)

Anonymous said...

Do yo know of any place in Southeastern PA to get elderberries
You can email me
mrs_mcv@yahoo.com