As many of you already know from my other blog posts West Virginia is a place with a huge assortment of wild foods. My family and I try as much as possible to use what is given in our woods for food and better health. One of the most wonderful plants that my family has found and uses not only for food but also as a medicine is Elderberries. It has been a tradition here to use these berries as a tonic or wine for centuries but more modern studies have shown that their medicinal uses are wide-spread. For more information what benefits they have finding fallow the link. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/supplement-guide-elderberry. The berries are high in vitamin C and have anti viral properties that anyone can use in these coming cold winter months. Studies suggest that the berries reduce inflammation and swelling also so it can’t hurt to take a bit everyday and maybe more if you are feeling the effects of a cold or flue coming on.
These little power houses are one of my favorite things about my hunter-gather life style as I make a wonderful jelly out of these berries and who can complain about a daily dose of medicine that you can put on toast, biscuits or even pancakes.
My passion for the wild bushes started out on our small horse farm where a small bush took up residence in a fence row. After talking with my husband who knew what the plant was I ask if he liked Elder berry wine and jelly he said he had not had either in years but liked them both.
Well that following year I read up on the tiny berries and how to use them. Waited until they were about 80% ripe and went to work making my frist batch of Jelly that the family loved and later found out how wonderful they were for your health.
So now every mid July I hunt for enough wild berries to make at least 20 half pints of jelly and if I am lucky several quarts of juice to later made into syrup. We use it as a cold treatment and a preventative… a daily dose to word off the flu season blues.
Last spring I ran out of jelly and needed to renew my stock pile and decided to take photos of the jelly and syrup process and share them with you. A person can buy dried berries and make both jelly or syrup but fresh is always the better option if you can find them.
The plants are easily found along road banks and ditches here in the east and most farmers mow the plants not wanting their stocky plants in their meadows. The canes grow about 5 to 9 feet tall if left to grow wild and are thornless but grow in the same manner as black berries. The canes are hallow and round and in fall they do become brittle and snapped off for other uses. In spring the plants have a very beautiful white cluster flower all along the top of the canes against a green leave back ground. Summer leading to the red/black berries. The darker the berries the better they are for you health. These berries would eventually look almost black when totally ripe. I pick mine just before that happens as the birds love them and will clean entire bushes off in a day when totally ripe. These berries sat on my porch for about three days to finish ripening and getting that beautiful red/black color.
In the Jelly making process you want a few under ripe berries to help produce natural pectin to help jell the juice.If making you are making syrup only it is better to use the ripest fruits for better flavor. As you can see I used about a 90-10 mixture and still needed to add a little lemon juice to encourage the jelling process.
After picking the berries I strip them from the stems, wash them through a colander,
place them in a large stock pot and add water to begin the juicing process.
Always wash and sterilise your jars, lids and rings before making the syrup or jelly. Plan to use a boiling water canner to seal jars.
Next place berries in stock pot ( mine is an 8 quart) adding about half as much water as you have berries. In my case I had almost 5 quarts of berries and I added 3 quarts water to the pot. Add medium heat to the pot and wait for the berries and water to boil a low boil and begin to smash the berries as they cook with a potato masher. The berries will appeared to pop from the heat and skins will float to the top of the juice.
After letting the juice cool I then strain it through 3 or 4 pieces or WET cheese cloth. I put mine in a colander and drain into another stock pot. When straining the berry skins away from the juice do not squeeze the cheese cloth. let it drain naturally. If you squeeze the skins to hard they will cloud you juice making it look milky. At this point I had about 7 quarts of juice to make into any thing I wanted. I could process this very healthy juice into quart jars, I can make a more palatable syrup for coughs and colds or make jelly. I make both the syrup and jelly with sugar but honey could be used in the cold syrup instead, Jelly on the other hand needs sugar and acid to set up.
I then fallow the SURE-GEL elderberry jelly receipt that fallows. http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/surejell-elderberry-jelly-60866.aspx The receipt was once a staple of the package instructions but as of this year Kraft removed it. Not a wise idea if you ask me.
This was the end result of about 30 minutes of picking time, a box of Sure-Gel,a few cups of sugar and a case of jelly jars. I also made about 6 1/2 pints of cold syrup this year and that should last are family all winter. Most of these jars will eventually be sent to family and friends for a gift of health for the holidays.
The gifts of the wild woods here in West Virgina always amaze me. I am so glad to live in a place that offers so much to a person who is willing to take the time to learn more about the wilderness. Elderberries of course can also be grown from nursery stock and planted in you own back yard. At some point when my knees and ankles will not allow me to berry pick on a steep hill-sides I will then transplant a bush into our yard for easy access. But at this point, I am happy to spend the day along a farm road or creek side, looking for and making a wonderful tasting flu and cold preventive the old fashion way.
shared with the homeacre blog hop.