Eating Seasonally: Prepare for Flu Season now!

Elderberries are in season on the Pacific NW and may be in your area as well! If, like me, you’re too sensitive to traces and cross contamination to tolerate any of the prepackaged elderberry syrups or prepackaged dried elderberries, now is the time to stock up on the wild foraged stuff and freeze or dehydrate to make into syrup for the flu season. Not familiar with elderberries and why I’d want them for the winter?

Where to Get Them

What we have growing wild and native in the area is blue elderberry. There may be some folks growing black elderberry in the area, but I haven’t found them. Let me know if you know of any in the Western Washington area or even down in to Oregon. If you live outside of the Pacific NW, you may have a different species available to you. The most common species seems to be American Elder, which has a strong folk tradition of medicinal use, but please do your own research and don’t just go taking herbs on my say so.

Only black elderberry (sambucus nigra) has been officially studied for its medicinal effects but I am taking a chance on blue elderberry being as good for you since it’s what I have access to. There’s at least enough folk wisdom referenced about the use of blue elderberry for medicinal purposes to make me feel comfortable doing so. Foraged and Found Edibles at the Seattle Farmer’s market has them right now and hopefully will for a couple more weeks. I emailed ahead and asked them for 13lbs to pick up at the market and he had a box just all prepped for me to pick up when I arrived.

How to Process Elderberries

Note that the stems and unripe berries are toxic, so you will want to carefully pick over your berries and remove those. What I do is wash them and place them still on the stems on baking sheets in my freezer. Then when they’re frozen I take a fork and pull the berries off the stems and remove as many of the stems as I can. I flash freeze again since the berries have melted a bit while I do that, then pick over to get the last of the stems and green berries out and then put into quart bags to freeze. Some stems still make it into the bags so I will rinse them and sift yet again before using.

You could also dehydrate the berries. I just chose to freeze mine.

How to Use and How Much to Store

Here is the recipe I use to make elderberry syrup. 1 cup of berries should make 1.5 cup sof syrup, and 1.5 cups of syrup will make about 5-6 days of doses for one person at the recommended 1 tsp every 2-3 hours.  My 13 lbs of berries made about 8.5 quarts without the stems so that’s about 170 days of flu-level elderberry syrup doses, give or take. Should be plenty for two for the winter, heheh.

Questions to ask of Wild Foragers

– Do you ever harvest from near fruit orchards? (Even organic orchards spray with organic pesticides in corn-based carriers and there may be runoff.)
– Do you ever harvest from near farms, even organic farms? (same as above.)

– Do you wear gloves when picking and what do you wash your hands with before you pick?
– Do you wash the berries off with anything? (best answer is no.)
– How are the elderberries stored until you bring them to market? (Those green molded fiber containers give me trouble so if they usually use those ask them to skip it.)

To be honest I didn’t even ask those questions. I should have, but guinea pigging worked out okay for me. Phew!

Questions to Ask of Berry Farms

– What do you use for pest control, if anything?
– What do you use for fertilizer, if anything?
– Do your workers wear gloves when picking? If not, what do they wash their hands with?
– What are the berries stored in while picking and before selling?

Questions to Ask of Elderberry Juice Manufacturers

All of the above question about the berries themselves, plus:

– What are the elderberries washed with before juicing?
– What is the equipment used to juice the elderberries washed with?
– What other products are processed in the facilities where the berries are juiced and packaged?
– Is anything added to the juice to preserve freshness or color? (Pay extra attention to this step: elderberry is not acidic enough to be water bath canned without an added acid, so malic and citric acid are used frequently and both are commonly from corn. )rries washed or rinsed before selling, and with what?

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