In an earlier article, I discussed the many health benefits of elderberry – especially as it relates to treatment of the flu. In the past couple of years, I have purchased the expensive elderberry syrups (Sambucol) and these seemed to work well when I felt like I was coming down with a cold or flu. This time I decided to try and save a little money and make my own. Well, I have had my eye on all the elderberry ripening in my area in the summer months (see pic), and I had even planted a few bushes in my yard a couple of years ago. The native elderberries we have in the southeast are probably the same as those up north. However, they are referred to in the literature as Sambucus simpsonii. Anyhow, I decided to do some research and make either my own syrup or tincture.
Because it was my first time harvesting these, I wasn’t quite sure quite how to go about it or how many to pick (though I intended to have enough for about 2 quarts). Anyhow, pictured on the left are the berry clusters that I managed to pick off of about 3 full bushes (and still left plenty for the birds and other wildlife).
To get the tiny berries off the little stems, I just gently rubbed them off while tugging on them. This process was a little time consuming because I wanted to make sure not to include ANY stems or green berries. This is important because everything but the ripe berries is slightly toxic due to alkaloids (these would be destroyed by conventional recipes involving cooking, but that isn’t the intent here). Though I did not weigh them, I would guess I ended up with about 8 pounds of berries.
The main consensus of the articles that I read suggested to make a mixture of 1/3 elderberries with 2/3 of 80 or higher proof vodka. Because some articles suggested using dried berries, and I was using fresh berries, I decided to make a mixure half and half berries to vodka. I was only able to find 80 proof and so this is what I used. I also took an extra step and blended the mixture before pouring it into my quart sized storage jars.
Once you have done this, you then place the jars in a cool dark storage area (unless your jars are a dark glass etc.). You then shake the mixture daily for two to three weeks, and after this time period, you can then start straining off the mixture as you need it. I would advise doing this instead of straining off the entire mixture because it will continue to strengthen with age.
If you do not like the taste of vodka, you can also use brandy, but in either case the purpose of the alcohol is to draw out all the desired ingredients and act as a preservative. My understanding is that this tincture will last for a number of years. From the quantity of elderberry shown above, I was able to make 2 quarts and still have enough left over to make over 2 more quarts ( I froze the remainder of the berries). Later on I will be discussing how to use this tincture to make a syrup – in the case of kids or for those that favor a syrup.
One word of caution if you are collecting the berries yourself; Make sure that you do a proper ID check before you pick anything that you are unfamiliar with, and also avoid the red elderberry since these can be slightly toxic. These berries are truly red when ripe, so you shouldn’t have a hard time identifying them. Till next time, good health to you!