Ingredient Spotlight: Elderberries

updated Jun 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Here’s something we picked up at the farmers’ market that is often foraged in the wild: elderberries. Ripening in summer, these clusters of currant-sized berries come from the same bush that gives us elderflowers for syrup and liqueur.

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Elderberries are tangy and somewhat grape-y in flavor and commonly used to make cordials, syrups, wine, preserves, and pies. (Ours are destined for a honey-based syrup.) High in Vitamin C and antioxidants, they have also been used for medicinal purposes for centuries in North America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Several species exist, and those found in North America are generally Sambucus canadensis (American Elderberry) or Sambucus nigra (Black Elderberry).

The natural sweetness of elderberries tends to be pretty mild, so sweetener is usually added. Although the berries have a rich flavor on their own, they also pair especially well with apples, blackberries, and grapes. Here are some great examples of elderberry foraging and cookery around the web, with plenty of photos:

Elderberry: Plant Profile, from Stitch and Boots
Elderberry Jelly, from Simply Recipes
Elderberry Syrup, from David Lebovitz
Wild Elderberry Preserves with Honey and Almond, from Modern Beet

Important notes: Before using elderberries, take care to discard all stems, leaves, and unripe berries, as they contain hydrocyanic acid and sambucine, which can cause nausea. The ripe black, blue, or purple berries are safe to eat but should be cooked first to temper their astringency. Avoid red and green elderberries.

Do you have any experience using elderberries?

(Images: Emily Ho, Emily Ho, Flickr member jkirkhart35 licensed under Creative Commons, Flickr member Ryan Harvey licensed under Creative Commons)