The end of summer and the start of autumn brings a bounty of fruits on our bushes and trees in the UK and in this session we look once more to our Elder trees that provide us with so much across the year. On this occasion it is the berries that attract us with their dark purple-red hues known for both their high vitamin C content and their ability to dye anything that comes near them! The high vitamin C content in the berries makes them the perfect natural way to fight the common cough, cold and flu viruses that abound in autumn and as the seasons change. It is sweet, delicious and many swear by it's medicinal properties helping them through the colder seasons. It can be added to water for a drink, taken directly on the spoon or drizzled over ice-cream or pancakes as a treat. I promise both adults an children will enjoy this one!
It can keep in the fridge bottled for up to 3mths (*TIP - bottle in small jars/bottles to keep it fresh and unopened for longer) or freeze in ice-cube trays and keep for upto a year in a tub in the freezer defrosting them as required. Make sure you choose the dark ripe berries and pick out any that aren't before cooking. Full recipe below. Whilst using this nature activity to inspire learning, know you are helping you and your family's wellbeing:
1) Get Active - Getting out for a walk as the seasons change can be a little more challenging as the summer fades but going with a purpose to collect elderberries can make it a fun experience for all. Hunt out local elder trees or revisit ones that you spotted earlier in the year. It may mean knocking on someone’s door to ask if it’s ok to harvest from a tree in their garden. It’s ok if they say no, there will be another somewhere else. Try to pick away from busy roads (pollution) and above knee level (for dog wee).
2) Keep Learning - Learn how to identify the elder tree first and what it looks like in all seasons. Consider mapping where the elder trees are local to you for future foraging trips. Look up and discover more about the history of how the tree would have been used and the properties of the berries and flowers.
3) Be Mindful - the flowers and berries are mildly poisonous if eaten raw in any large quantity (a few raw berries is fine) but they are entirely ok once cooked. The berries are also a needed source of food to the birds and small animals that we share our spaces with, so make sure you leave some for them too. Imagine how you would feel if you made something for everyone to try and only one person came and took it all, this is how the Elder tree might 'feel' if we took all it's berries and left none for the other species.
4) Practice Kindness - remember to have patience with family members who come foraging and cooking with you and to have patience with yourself if this is the first time you have made it. Know the berries will stain so be prepared for that if you don't want things to become berry stained.
5) Think Community - Share your tips, where to look for them and outcomes in the comments below. Make an extra batch or jar for your elderly neighbour, your friend or your work colleague to try and spread the love and health that can come from understanding nature.
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Elderberry Elixir Recipe & Instructions. 250g elderberries =approx 15 large heads of berries - shake to remove bugs.
Juice of 1 small lemon (approx 30ml)
500ml water (or perhaps a little more or less depending on your pan)
Optional extras: 2 cloves/ half star anise/small cinnamon stick/ half thumb of ginger sliced. Strip berries from the stems with a fork into a large bowl. Remove any unripe berries (pale red or green ones). Place the berries in a pan & cover with water (approx 500ml or until approx 1cm of water covers the berries). Add in any optionals at this point if you would like them.
Cover pan with lid and bring to the boil and then simmer for 20-25mins then remove from the heat.
Pour the liquid and berries through a fine sieve or muslin bag to remove the berries & press all juice out into a large bowl.
Pour the juice from the large bowl into jug to see how much you have in millilitres. ( I had approx 475ml of fluid).
Per 500ml of juice you can add approx 200-400g of sugar, depending on your taste buds ( I chose to put in 300g and it is certainly sweet!). Put the sugar into a clean pan, then pour in your juice and add the juice of 1 small lemon (approx 30ml).
Bring to a gentle simmer and keep simmering for 10-15mins.
Let the syrup cool fully. Now is a good time to sterilise your glass containers with boiling water for 5mins to make sure they are ready.
Pour your cooled syrup back into a jug for ease of transferring (unless you have a funnel) and then pour into your sterilised containers & seal. Keep in the fridge for uptown 3mths or freeze into cubes and keep in the freezer for up to a year. Music: https://www.bensound.com