In Florida’s Edible Wild Plants, Peggy Lantz demystifies the process of foraging to help you discover the wonder of finding and eating wild plants that grow right in your backyard.
Below is a recipe for elderberry jam from the book. If you have an elderberry shrub nearby, you may want to give this a try!
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- 8 cups elderberries
- ¼ cup water
- 1 box commercial pectin
- 7 cups sugar
Cook and mash berries in water. Bring 5 cups of pulp to a boil, add pectin, return to a boil, stir in sugar, and boil hard for 1 minute. Pour into hot jars and cap.
More elderberry recipes from Florida’s Edible Wild Plants
- Pie crust for double-crust pie
- 4 cups elderberries
- 4 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a pie pan with a pie crust. Rinse the berries and mix with sugar, cornstarch, and water. Pour them into the pie shell, cover with the second pie crust, and prick the crust. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees and bake until browned, about 35 minutes.
This recipe is adapted from Clara Renner’s Wild Things column in the “Orlando Sentinel.”
4 cups ripe elderberries
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
3 tart apples, peeled and diced
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Simmer elderberries in water for 10 minutes. Puree in a blender or put through a food mill. Return to the pot, add sugar, diced apple, and cinnamon. Cook until the apple is slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Make a slurry of cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water and stir into elderberry mixture. Allow to thicken over low heat. Serve hot or cold with croutons.
Syrup made from wild elderberries is the prettiest you can imagine. And easy. Rinse them to remove dust and maybe insects and remove any stems. Simmer them in a small amount of water until they’re soft, mash them in the water, and then strain the juice through cheesecloth. I always squeeze the cheesecloth to extract every little bit of juice and any pulp that will go through, but the juice will be clearer if you don’t press it. Add an equal amount of sugar and boil until the sugar is dissolved. It’s wonderful on waffles or pancakes.
From Florida’s Edible Wild Plants
Sambucus nigra subspecies canadensis
Part to eat: Blossoms, berries
When to gather: Nearly year-round
Where to gather: Damp places throughout Florida
Elderberry shrubs have good things to eat on them most of the year. The pollen can be shaken into a bag and added to bread, biscuit, or pancake flour. The blossoms can be stripped off and added to flour, or the full head can be dipped in batter and fried in deep fat. And the blossoms, fresh or dried, also can be brewed into tea. If you smell the flowers, you’ll get a foretaste of the lovely flavor you will be adding to your food.
And the berries—ah, the berries! Purple-black when ripe, they’ll make syrup, jelly, pie, and wine. Even soup!
Elderberries are in bloom and berry for much of the year. From January through November, I can see elderberries in bloom all along the roadsides. Sometimes you can find blossoms, green berries, and ripe berries on the same bush all at the same time.
The bushes are pretty easy to recognize, but don’t be totally casual about it; some people think it looks like the poisonous water hemlock, though the leaves are quite different (see note below).
Elderberries grow about ten feet tall, often with multiple stems, and have shiny compound leaves. The blossoms grow in an upright umbel, looking something like an umbrella, with lots of tiny blooms on each umbel. Each tiny flower is white with a yellow center. The berries are small, and stay in the umbrella shape, but as they ripen, they get heavy with juice and bend over so the umbrella is upside down.
Elderberries can be used fresh and can be frozen or dehydrated, but they should not be eaten without being cooked in some way.
Note from the author:
I’ve been told that some people might confuse elderberry and water hemlock. All parts of the water hemlock plant are deadly if eaten.
Be sure you know the difference. Elderberry, Sambucus nigra, is a woody shrub with bark and grows to ten feet or higher. Its blossom is a dense white umbel up to eight inches across, and it blooms almost year-round here in Florida. Its berries are black and about the size of BBs. It has opposite, compound leaves that are shiny and feathery.
The poisonous water hemlock, Cicuta maculata, grows from two to seven feet high in marshes and on riverbanks almost throughout Florida. Its main stem is green with purple splotches, or it may be all purple, particularly when young. Its flowers, which bloom in summer and fall, are also white, but they are grouped in clusters of little umbels, not in one big cluster like elderberry. Its leaves are rough and deeply veined, and water hemlock produces seeds, not berries.
Have fun, but stay safe.