If you've been out for a walk in the last week or so, you must have noticed the abundance of ripening fruit: blackberries, sloes, hawthorn and one of my personal favorites, the elderberry. I'm particularly drawn to this hedgerow fruit, partly because they are so abundant, and in case you're wondering if they're ready to pick, the clusters have a considerate habit of drooping downwards when most of the berries are ripe. I also like them because they appeal to my subversive side; last year I overheard a mum telling her son 'Don't pick those, they're poisonous! ' Although a large quantity of raw fruit might cause a tummy upset, the elderberry is one of our native power plants, the berries contain weight for weight, more vitamin C than oranges, vitamin A, plus high levels of the free-radical busting nutrient, beta carotene and potassium, which is essential for a healthy nervous system.
So what can you do with elderberries? Recipes abound on the internet, from country wines and cordials to pickle and desserts. A mixing bowlful of ripe berries is enough for a pint of cordial - which you can use to flavour apple pies and cakes, and to make a hot toddy - one part cordial to around 7 parts hot water, a slice of lemon and a dash of whisky. Mmm, that thought almost makes me look forward to winter!
Elderberry: essential foraging facts
- Avoid under-ripe green or pale purple berries, pick only the black ones.
- Choose elderberry heads which are beginning to droop.
- Process them as soon as you can as the high water content will quickly turn them mushy.
- The easiest way to remove the berries from the stalks is to rub them gently between finger and thumb - the ripe ones will come away easily, although your fingers will be a scary shade of purple...