Okay, so while chopping down and burning this tree may unleash the wrath of the old gods upon you, picking its berries and making a delicious cordial will, conversely, release its ancient healing powers.
Elderberries have (apparently) long been used for their antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, to improve vision, to boost the immune system, to improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and to treat viral infections and tonsilitis. Bioflavonoids and other proteins in the juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell.
People who’ve taken elderberry juice when ill with the flu have reported less severe symptoms and felt better much faster than those who did not. This could of course just be because it tastes really nice, but either way you’re winning really.
Enough chat. What’s the recipe?
Elderberries (removed from stalks) x 4 lbs*
Water x 1.5 pints
Sugar x 2 lbs
Cloves x 10
Ginger x 1 large thumb sized piece, grated.
Cinnamon Stick x 1 medium
[*Adjust quantities based on how many elderberries you pick.]
- Go for a walk with a bag and fill it full of nice ripe elderberries.
(Elderberries are ripe enough to pick as soon as they go black, though they will get plumper and softer if you wait for a week or two, but watch you don’t lose them to the birds. Pick the whole heads with the berries on and remove the stalks when you get home.)
- Separate the elderberries from their greenery by gently pulling them off with your fingers or popping them off with a fork.
(This takes ages, so you might want to do it while you’re watching TV or listening to the Archers Omnibus.)
- Put elderberries in a large saucepan with just enough water to cover them, – I found that this was about 1.5 pints for my 4 lbs of berries – bring to a low boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes, or however long it takes for them to release as much juice as they’re going to. You might like to mash them about a bit but don’t use a food processor as that will blitz the seeds and get them into your cordial which you do not want as they’re not good to eat.
- Strain everything through a sieve.
- Measure how much juice you have now then pour it into a large, clean, saucepan (use your jam pan if you have one).
- Add the sugar and spice and all things nice.
(Opinions on how much sugar to add vary greatly but there’s a general consensus towards using 1 lb of sugar per 1 pint of juice. I used a bit less, 2 lbs of sugar to my 2.5 pints of juice)
- Simmer for another hour.
- Bottle in sterilized bottles or jars.
N.B. This cordial won’t keep like wine or jam keeps, but it should last you through the winter (unless you drink it all before then!) if you keep it in the fridge.
As a Syrup: Pour neat over ice-cream and other desserts.
As a Medicine: A typical dose seems to be approx. 4 tbsp. of elderberry syrup taken three times daily from when cold symptoms first appear, for up to 5 days. Or a spoon a day as a preventative measure, which is what your hot drink will do also.
(Please note: Women who are pregnant or breast feeding should not use elderberry supplements at all. Elderberry syrup may also interact negatively with water pills, anti-diabetes drugs and immunosuppressant medication. And I am not a Doctor so be safe and do your own research.)
How Much Did it Cost? (Approximately)
£1.58 for 2.5 pints / 1.4 litres of Elderberry Cordial
(or £2.59 using unrefined sugar)
Tate & Lyle Granulated Sugar: £0.88 /kg – or – Billingtons Unrefined Granulated Sugar**: £1.89 /kg
**It is suggested that unrefined sugar both tastes better and is better for you, so you can chose your priorities here.