Thursday, August 14, 2008


One of the most accessible of wild berries, elderberries typically grow wild and abundantly along country roadsides. I'm lucky enough to have a bush of them near the piglot, so even gathering was low-cost, just a walk down the yard.

Elderberry bushes are so pretty in bloom with big white umbrellas of flowers covering the bushes around the middle of June. My neighbor Belva used to say that when elderberries are in bloom, milk cows give less milk. My experience proved her to be correct, although I'm not sure what the connection was (or was it just my imagination? I don't think so).

These small purple berries yield a powerful deep red juice that makes excellent jelly and wine.
My elderberry jelly, made last weekend, turned out beautifully.

My recipe for elderberry jelly:
Pick ripe berries and strip from stems. Rinse thoroughly. Crush berries, add about 1/2 cup of water and heat to boiling. Remove from heat and strain through cheesecloth or juice bag.
Put 4 1-2 cups of elderberry juice into a large saucepan. Add 1.8 cup of lemon juice and 1 box of fruit pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil. Add 6 1/2 cups of sugar and return to a boil. boil hard for one minute. Remove from heat, skim off any foam and ladle into hot, sterilized jars. Process following recommended procedures (see this recipe for guidelines)

Many uses are attributed to elderberry. For example:

  • We used hollowed-out elderberry branches when we tapped maples. We would drill the hole, and use the hollowed elderberry stem as the tap to funnel sap into the bucket.

  • I used to batter-dip elderberry blossoms to make elder fritters.

  • Elderberry blossoms make an interesting white wine. Here's one recipe from (My recipe was from an old cookbook that is long since gone.)

Elderberry lore, recipes and more at Mother Earth News.

The self-proclaimed site that "all about elderberries." lists numerous uses for all parts of the elderberry plant, as well as several recipes for elderberry wine.

There are several myths about the elder plant; several can be found here. And according to this website, the elder can be used to see the king of fairyland.

And then, "On mid-summer´s night the elderberry was a symbol of love. The saying was that:" If a young maiden shook the elderberry tree, her future husband appeared from the direction the dog barked." From Salzkammergut (Austria) lore.

A folktale about Father Elderberry-tea from the Brothers Grimm is here.

And another folktale, from the Pitt e-text project:

The Entombed Noblewoman

by Johann Adolf Heyl

Approximately a quarter hour west of the parsonage of Enneberg stands Asch, the knightly ancestral home of the Lords of Prack. The Cadorinis are said to have set it afire during their military attack in the year 1487. It still stands as it was rebuilt afterward.

Adjacent to the castle is a garden, surrounded by a wall that is overgrown with elderberry and currant bushes. Not far from this seat of nobility flows the brook Fortiang toward St. Vigiler's Brook. The following legend deals with this place.

A Knight Prack went to war, leaving his expectant wife at home.
One day a beggar woman came to Castle Asch and asked for alms. The noblewoman was hardhearted and had the old woman turned away. The woman left angrily, shouting up to the windows, "As punishment you shall bring twelve children into the world at one time."

And thus it happened. The woman brought twelve boys into the world at one time, but she kept only one of them, the one who pleased her most. She ordered a maidservant to drown the others in a nearby brook.

At the same time the knight returned home from the field. He met the maidservant with the eleven children in her apron. He asked her what she was carrying away, and the maidservant told him everything.

The knight had the eleven boys raised by strangers. At home he acted as if he knew nothing about the event. He caressed the boy that his wife had kept and attended to his knightly upbringing.

When the sons had grown up he sponsored a splendid feast and told his wife that he had invited eleven magnificent knights. The woman considered herself fortunate to be able to host such distinguished guests. She did everything to prepare a distinguished meal.

The eleven knights finally made their entry, and the feast began. As they ate, the knight entertained his guests with stories of his war deeds. Finally he turned the conversation to a discussion of various kinds of misdeeds.
Soon thereafter the knight began telling a story, "Once there was a raven-mother who brought twelve boys into the world. She wanted to kill eleven of them and to keep and raise only one. However, without her knowledge, she was hindered in her criminal intentions. The eleven boys were rescued and brought up away from home. What punishment would such a woman deserve?"

The wife, who had no idea that anyone knew anything about her secret except for the maidservant, and who thought that her eleven boys had long been dead, replied with indignation, "Such a raven-mother should be entombed alive."

With that the knight turned to her and said calmly, "You yourself are this raven-mother, and my eleven knightly guests are our sons whom you wanted to drown. God decreed otherwise, and fortunately they are still alive. Your own judgment will now be carried out on you."

The wife confessed her dastardly intentions, embraced and kissed her twelve sons, and was led away without resistance.

Her husband allowed her to select the place where she would be entombed. She chose the garden wall of their castle, and asked that she be allowed to put into her mouth a hollowed-out elderberry branch, such as grew on the garden wall, so that she could breathe. If the branch were to grow into an independent elderberry bush, then she was saved. If, however, it were to wither, then she was condemned to the torments of hell. Then she was entombed.

"Thank God," added hard-of-hearing old Frau Agreiter, who told me this story, "as you can see, the elderberry twig has grown into a splendid bush. The poor woman has done her penance and is now in heaven, for that was a long time ago."

Nonetheless, it can be spooky from time to time at Castle Asch, especially in the subterranean chambers. It is said that the great treasure of the Bracuns, an immeasurable amount of gold, is buried there, and also Saint George's saddle, upon which he sat when he killed the dragon. When the Pracks rode in that saddle they were said to be invincible.

Source: Johann Adolf Heyl, Volkssagen, Bräuche und Meinungen aus Tirol (Brixen: Verlag der Buchhandlung des Kath.-polit. Pressvereins, 1897), pp. 576-577.
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Okay, enough already. Go find some elderberries, and get busy making your own jelly, wine or whatever your fancy dictates!

1 comment: said...

Granny, perhaps I wasn't reading closely enough, but do you know what the difference/connection is between the elderberry and elderflower? I had several varieties of elderflower tea and juice in England, and they were quite tasty, with a really distinctive flavor, and supposedly very "healthy."

Love your blog, as always.


(The Timpanogoes Storytelling Festival is literally just down the road from me. Have you ever been?)

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