As summer peaks and retreats to fall, I am reminded of the ephemeral nature of fruiting and the importance of not missing out on an event. A tree, bush, herb, or fungi can ripen and subsequently spoil in the blink of an eye. With this in mind, we are always on the lookout for buds, fruits, seeds – new bountiful spots and keep an eye on our old, well-known, trustworthy honey pots.
This spring, while mountain biking, we came across a nice grove of elderberry bushes (genus Sambucus) blooming vigorously with tiny, white, perfect flowers. There were plenty of flowers so that we could pick some lovely bouquets for the kitchen and still ensure a nice midsummer forage of the later fruits. Elder flowers are loaded with natural yeast and have a delicate floral sweetness, so we finished a batch of kombucha with the flowers and some local Sweet Sting Honey. There were enough flowers left to accent a wonderful peach jam from which peaches were gathered from Lonely Dell Orchard at Lees Ferry (that’s another story).
Fast forward a couple months, the days have grown longer and now shorter again. It is hot and unseasonably dry, yet our mountains will still provide, and we know where to go. Back to where the elderflowers bloomed and round two on the same bushes for a whole new flavor and set of uses. Like many berries, gathering the elderberries is time-consuming and allows for moments sharing deep conversations or lighthearted laughter with friends. After a couple hours with full hearts and baskets, we had enough to get to the kitchen and start the food sorcery. Jams and syrups are our favorite ways of utilizing these Sambucus berries, so we emptied them into a pot and started cooking them down. Of course, I can’t divulge too many kitchen secrets but after several hours we had a gorgeous, vibrantly dark Syrup for the taking.
As you may have heard, elderberries are quite good for you – there are several reasons why this plant has been used for centuries. They are rich in anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant that helps purge the body of free radicals. Both the flowers and the berries have several other antioxidant compounds including phenolic acids and flavanols. A great source of fiber and a useful diuretic, parts of Sambucus are poisonous and should be approached with caution. Many people have been using tinctures and extracts from either the flower or the berry to treat symptoms of the cold and flu. All this along with an impressive amount of vitamin C makes this elderberry syrup perfect in taste and health benefits.