The Elder is my most favourite of trees. In the summer they bloom with the most delicious flowers which can be used in a whole manner of ways (try this boozy elderflower cordial recipe!). And then in Autumn, they offer up another tasty bounty when they positively drip with elderberries, which are also delicious when cooked (but do see my safety note below before you eat any).
Elderberries are in season from, depending on where you are, roughly mid-September to mid-October. The little black berries pack a mighty punch – they are rich in Vitamin A and B, and are richer in Vitamin C than oranges, making them a great natural cold and flu remedy. Last winter I was plagued with the cold and flu, so this year I thought I’d make an elderberry syrup to help ward off any pesky bugs over this coming winter. I added some extra vitamin C in the form of oranges and lemons just for good measure.
You won’t find elderberries in the shops – you’ll have to go out and pick your own – but luckily the countryside is bursting with elderberries at the moment. Just get out there with a bag and a pair of scissors and snip bunches of the blackest juiciest berries you can find. It’s pretty easy to spot them, but if you’re unsure ask a local expert.
My freshly picked and de-stalked elderberries
First, a very important word of warning – elderberries. their stems and their leaves are toxic when raw, so don’t be tempted to eat any whilst you pick. They contain cyanide and can cause sickness. Thankfully when you cook the berries they lose their toxicity, so you’re safe with this recipe as it calls for the berries and their juice to be cooked twice!
Picking the berries for your elderberry syrup recipe is the easy part. Once you’ve picked your berries you’ll need to remove them from their stalks. The best way to do this is to comb through the stalks with a fork into a bowl. When you’ve removed all the berries from the stalks you’ll find that quite a few berries still have little stalks on them. Unfortunately, these have to be removed too, along with any unripe berries. This is quite a long and tedious job – it took me the best part of an hour going through all the berries with a fine tooth comb, but do persevere as the elderberry syrup is well worth this initial toil.
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
Delicious Spiced Elderberry Syrup
- Fresh elderberries as many as you can pick - I filled one carrier bag
- A lemon
- An orange
- Brown sugar muscovado or demerara
- Cinnamon sticks
- Sterilised glass bottles and tops.
Give your berries a good wash, and cover yourself up with an apron or wear old clothes as the berries can stain like mad.
Next place your berries in a stainless steel pan with half of their volume of water, and simmer for 20 minutes. Don’t allow to boil or you’ll remove some of the goodness from the berries. While they are simmering it’s good to give them a mash with a stainless steel potato masher or the back of a metal spoon to help release the berry juices. Don’t use wooden utensils unless you want them to be stained purple forever more!
Pass the mixture through a fine stainless steel sieve into a bowl, and allow to sit for 15 minutes or so to allow all of the liquid to drip out. Use a metal spoon to push down on the berries to ensure as much water and juice is pressed out of the berries:
Measure your elderberry liquid – for every 500ml of liquid you have add 250g of sugar, a few slices of lemon, a few slices of orange, a few cloves and one cinnamon stick to a stainless steel pan, and then add your liquid.
Stir and then let simmer for 20 minutes (my kitchen smelled like Christmas at this point, it was amazing!) and then pass it through the sieve to remove the fruit, cinnamon and cloves.
Place in a sterilised glass bottle (I filled a 500ml bottle) and enjoy whenever you feel a cold coming on or just when you fancy it. I would serve diluted with hot water as a tasty winter warmer. It has a lovely earthy flavour, and the spice and citrus give it that extra sweet edge:
This winter I also plan on enjoying the elderberry syrup as a hot toddy with a shot of whisky and hot water! I’m looking forward to that on a cold evening, let me tell you! Alternatively, you could drizzle over plain yoghurt or porridge, or even over ice-cream or pancakes. The possibilities of the syrup are endless! I’m going to make at least double the amount of elderberry syrup next year as we polished ours off pretty quickly!
Will you be elderberry picking this weekend?