When is elderberry ripe? How do you go about harvesting elderflower and berries? What else can you make from elderberry besides elderberry juice? We give tips on harvesting, preserving, and using.
Black elder ( Sambucus nigra ) can be used in many ways. The best-known product made from elderberry is elderflower syrup. Perhaps you know it as an ingredient for the refreshing summer cocktail “Hugo”. The specialty of the elder bush is that you can harvest and process both the flowers and the fruits. You can find out how to do this in this article. You can find more information about the elderberry bush – from planting to care and propagation to different types and varieties of elderberries – in our article on elderberries.
When is elderberry ripe?
Not only the ripe fruits of the elder can be harvested and processed, but the flowers of the elder bush can also be used in various ways. It is important to note, however, that there are no fruits without flowers. If you want to harvest both elderflowers in early summer and elderberries in late summer, you may only harvest some of the flowers of the elder bush, as otherwise, no fruit can form.
Elderflower harvest time
The elderflowers bloom from the end of May to June and should be harvested as fresh as possible, i.e. shortly after the individual flowers have opened.
Elderberry harvest time
The elderberries ripen between late September and October. Only harvest the fruits when as many berries as possible are ripe. Unripe berries should not be consumed due to their toxicity. In general, ripe elderberries must also be heated and boiled before consumption so that the toxic ingredients lose their effect.
Harvesting elderberries: this is how you do it
If you want to harvest elderberries, you will need a pair of scissors or a knife and a basket or other container for the flowers or the fruits. When you harvest the elderberries, it is advisable to wear older and darker clothes as possible, as the juice of the elderberries is very colorful and elder stains are difficult to wash out.
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On a sunny morning, when the dew has dried on the freshly opened individual flowers, cut the panicles and place them loosely in a basket. Process the harvested elderflower as quickly as possible, otherwise, they will wither.
Wait with the elderberry harvest until all the berries are dark purple to black. In the case of red elderberry ( Sambucus racemosa ), the time of ripening is reached when the berries are red. Cut off the panicles and carefully place them in a container so that the juicy berries do not burst.
Ingredients of elderberry: can you eat elderberries and elderflower?
Elderberry has many healthy ingredients. In the Middle Ages it was an important medicinal plant and today hot elderberry juice and tea made from elderflower are common home remedies for a cold.
Elderflower contains essential oils, tannins, and slimy substances, flavonoids, potassium, and sweat-inducing glycosides. Elderberries are real vitamin bombs and, in addition to vitamins C and B2, also contain essential oils and flavonoids as well as anthocyanins, minerals, and folic acid.
However, the leaves, bark, and seeds in particular also contain poisonous hydrogen cyanide glycosides. Therefore the elderberries can only be eaten cooked. The seeds of the red elder have higher levels of toxic substances and do not completely lose them when cooked. To still be able to eat the elderberries, you should remove the kernels with a sieve.
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Use elderflower and preserve it
Elderflowers can be processed into various products. Here you will find some ideas on which delicacies you can make from the creamy white flowers and how they can be preserved.
With just a few ingredients you can create a delicious elderflower syrup from the flowers. In addition to the elderflower, you will need water, sugar, and lemons or oranges for this. The syrup can be kept closed for around a year if stored correctly. For example, you can enjoy it with Prosecco, mineral water, and mint as “Hugo” or without alcohol as a refreshing elderberry lemonade.
Elderflower liqueur can also be prepared quickly. To do this, in addition to elderflower, water, sugar, and lemons, you need clear schnapps such as vodka or grain.
If you want to drink elderflower tea in winter, you can easily dry the elderflower after harvest. Cut off the thicker flower stalks just before the first branching and then place the flower umbels on a wire rack or wire rack so that they are also ventilated from below. The elderflowers can dry in a shady, warm, and airy place. Apply them daily. If the flowers rustle when they are moved, this is a sign that they are completely dry. Now you can pluck the individual flowers from the stems and store them in an airtight container, for example, a screw-top jar, in a dark place for up to about a year.
If you don’t want to process the elderflower immediately after harvesting, you can also freeze it. After you have shaken off any dirt and insects, dip the harvested elderflower briefly in water and then let them drain. Spread out the flower spikes on a baking sheet or tray and place them in the freezer for a few hours. You can then pull the individual flowers off the stems and store them in suitable containers in the freezer.
Use elderberries and preserve them
If you haven’t harvested all of the elderflowers in early summer, you can harvest the fruits of the elderberry bush in late summer. The elderberries can also be used in many ways.
After harvesting, you can process the elderberries into juice. First separate the washed berries from the stems, for example by plucking them with a fork. Elderberries are only edible when cooked, as the poisonous sambunigrin they contain loses its effect when heated.
With water, sugar, and lemons, you can make elderberry syrup from the elderberry juice, similar to the elderflower.
With sugar, vanilla, and schnapps (like rum) you can process the elderberries into elderberry liqueur, which you can enjoy neat or in an aperitif.
Elderberry jelly is also a good way to process the elderberries and make them durable. For this, you need elderberry juice, lemon juice, preserving sugar, and, if you like, spices such as cloves or cinnamon.
Elderberry is also easy to freeze. Separate the berries from the stems with a fork, then freeze them. Alternatively, you can freeze the panicles for a few hours and then pluck the berries. This way, elderberry juice stains can be avoided.
If you would like to find out how to cut the elderberry bush correctly so that you can look forward to a rich harvest year after year, we recommend our special article on the topic of “Elderberry cutting”.