How I Use Elderberries From My Garden

These delicious autumn-harvested berries can be used in a range of recipes.

bowl full of ripe elderberries

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Elderberries are one of my favorite sights in my autumn garden. I love to see the glossy black berries on the reddish-pink stems. And harvesting them is one of the jobs I always undertake around this time of year.

Even if you do not grow elderberries in your garden, this might be something to forage for in your area. If there are elderberries growing nearby, I highly recommend that you make the most of the natural bounty. 

Sambucus nigra is in flower in early summer, then forms fruits which ripen from August onwards. I harvest some of the flowers for cordials earlier in the year, but always make sure that I leave plenty to obtain my elderberry harvest. 

When I do not use up the berries right away, I freeze the rest. Then I take them out when I need them for a range of recipes. Here's how I use the elderberries from my garden.

Elderberry Tonic

Elderberries are rich in nutrients. I make a simple syrup with elderberries and honey, and combine this with other ingredients from the garden for a healthy drink. The syrup can also be used to make cordials, perhaps combined with other fruit syrups, poured over ice cream or used in desserts, or in any other way you may find delicious.

Apple and Elderberry Preserves

Elderberries work very well, I find, when combined with apples. The flavors complement each other and the pectin in the apples can help jams and jellies to set. As well as making traditional sweet jams and jellies, I have also made an apple and elderberry chutney that goes well with crackers and cheese. At one point I did make an elderberry jam, but personally I prefer the preserves which combine elderberries with other autumn fruits. 

Elderberry Breads and Bakes

Making an enriched bread dough with autumn fruits can work well. I add elderberries to breads, along with other ingredients like seeds and nuts, to enliven the loaves. I also make healthy breakfast muffins with elderberries, herbs, and honey (you could substitute maple syrup or agave) for sweetness. You can add elderberries to pancakes, which I often make with oats, seeds, nuts, and other autumn fruits and berries.

Elderberry Pie

There are many ways to use elderberries in pie fillings. One thing I enjoy is pouring elderberry honey syrup over ground almonds into a short-crust pastry. I've also combined elderberries with other autumn fruits like apple and blackberries to make crumbles topped with oats and seeds.

Elderberry Wine

Since there are a lot of elderberries where we live, a few years ago we experimented in making elderberry wine. I find that many fruit and hedgerow wines may taste good, but don't really resemble a traditional grape wine. Elderberry wine is different. I honestly think that, after maturing for a couple of years, our elderberry wine could hold its own against traditional red wines. This is certainly an experiment that we will be repeating when we have the space and time to do so. 

Just make sure that you leave the wine to mature. Ours really mellowed and improved in flavor after the first tasting, so think of this as a longer-term project.

There are other ways to use elderberries, but the ideas above are the ones that I most enjoy after several years of trial and error.

Of course, I also like to share the bounty. We are not the only ones who enjoy the elderberries—the birds and other wildlife do, too. So I make sure that even after I have harvested what I need, there is still plenty left for the creatures with whom we share our space.