If the birds haven’t beat you to it, it’s Elderberry Season! This year I left more Elderflowers than ever on my plants in the hopes of an abundant elderberry harvest. As per usual the birds have devoured them before I got to them.
The most common varieties of elder found in New Zealand are sambucus canadensis & sambucus nigra.
The tricky thing about gathering Elderberries, is that all parts of the plant except for the flowers or FULLY ripe berries are toxic. Do not eat the bark, leaves, stems or unripe berries which will make you sick. The Elderflowers are safe to eat and are generally used in teas, syrups & cocktails. The Elderberries are safe to eat once cooked, it’s not recommended to eat fresh. To be honest they taste quite gross on their own, so are best cooked up into a jam or syrup with the addition of sugar or honey.
Elderflower is packed with vitamins A, B, C, and E, & is particularly useful during the winter cold & flu season. It is known to have anti viral, anti bacterial, anti inflammatory & anticatarrhal properties as well as stimulating the immune system. Therefore great for coughs, colds, flu, fevers, sinus, hayfever, sore throats & respiratory infections. The flowers are used to tonify and strengthen mucous membranes hence it's use in treating respiratory tract conditions.
My favorite way to prepare Elderberry is in a Syrup, which I take at the first sign of illness. You’ll find my Elderberry article and a recipe for Elderberry Syrup in the March issue of NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
Elders were introduced into New Zealand from Europe, where it is steeped in legend & folklore.
The elder was long regarded as sacred, protected by the Elder Mother who lived in its trunk. Many country folk would not cut or burn the wood for fear of upsetting her. However the elder was also thought of as a protective tree – believed to keep evil spirits from entering the house if grown outside the door and to protect one from lightening during a storm. I can only wonder if this is why you can find them planted around old homesteads all over Europe, spilling out around old farms in NZ. Another reason might be that Elder is believed to prevent milk from curdling, and the leaves are supposed to deter flies.