Make the most of dark, fragrant elderberries while they’re in season.

Cooking with elderberries can get messy but it’s worth it. They’re full of health-giving properties and have been used medicinally for centuries. There are lots of elderberry recipes out there but here are our favourites.

Elderberry identification: a quick guide

  • Shrub or small tree
  • Pinnate leaves with 5 or 7 toothed leaflets
  • Leaflets oppositely arranged
  • Pale, corky bark
  • Clusters of small purple-black berries on red-pink stalks.
  • Berries ripen July-October depending on where you live.

Picking tips

Pick the clusters by breaking off the large stem – they should snap off of the branches easily. Shake off any insects.

The easiest way to remove the berries from the stalks is to strip them using the prongs of a fork. If you can’t use the berries straight away, they can be frozen and used later.

Recipes

Elderberry syrup

Elderberries and ginger may have anti-viral properties, so get ready for winter and make a stash of elderberry syrup. Add cinnamon and ginger to taste.

It's easy to make and you can eat it by the spoonful, drizzle onto porridge or yogurt, or add a dash to fizzy wine.

Method

  1. Carefully separate your elderberries from their stalks with a fork or your hands
  2. Chop up a little ginger into small pieces
  3. Put the elderberries and chopped ginger into a pan and cover them with water
  4. Bring to the boil and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly
  5. Pour the mixture through a jelly bag or muslin (fine cloth) and allow the juice to drip through. Extract as much liquid as possible
  6. Pour the elderberry liquid into a measuring jug, and measure how much you have. Now add equal parts sugar to the liquid mixture - so if you measured 500ml of juice, add 500g of sugar, or if you have 1 litre of liquid, add 1 kilo of sugar
  7. Add the sugar and a little ground cinnamon or cinnamon stick to the strained liquid. Simmer for five minutes and then cool and pour into sterilised bottles

Elderberry wine

When the weather turns colder and you find yourself in front of the fire, it's the perfect time to enjoy a glass of elderberry wine.

Patience is required for this recipe. Like red wine grapes, elderberries are high in tannin and so the wine needs time to mature.

Ingredients

  • 2½ lb elderberries
  • Campden tablets
  • 2½, 2¾ or 3 lb sugar (use the lowest amount of sugar for a dry wine, next for a medium dry wine and the higher sugar for a medium sweet)
  • Wine yeast
  • Yeast nutrient
  • Water
  • Gloves - particularly when handling the berries as they can die your skin purple!

Method

  1. Strip the elderberries from the stalks and wash well
  2. Put into a fermenting bin and crush, either using gloved hands or a potato masher
  3. Pour on 4 pints of water
  4. Add 1 Campden tablet, crushed and dissolved in a little warm water to kill off any wild yeasts
  5. Boil half of the sugar in 2 pints of water for 2 or 3 minutes and, when cool, mix into the pulp
  6. Add the yeast (6g) and nutrient and cover and allow to ferment for 5 days, stirring daily
  7. Strain and press and return the liquor to a clean fermenting bin
  8. Boil the rest of the sugar in 1 pint of water for 2 or 3 minutes and when cool, add to the liquor
  9. Cover again and leave for 3 or 4 days
  10. Pour carefully or syphon into a gallon jar. Try and leave as much of the sediment behind as possible
  11. Fill up the jar with cooled boiled water to where the neck begins
  12. Fit a fermentation lock and leave until fermentation has finished
  13. Rack your wine (which means to move your wine into a fresh container) adding a Campden tablet after the first fermentation
  14. Syphon into bottles
  15. Enjoy!

Spot the signs of the seasons

Let us know what's happening to animals and plants near you and help scientists track the effects of climate change on wildlife.

Explore Nature's Calendar

Try more great foraging recipes