The Elder tree (Sambucus nigra) can be found all through out the South Island of New Zealand and in some parts of the North growing wild in back gardens, parks, and community reserves*.
The Elder produces flowers in the late spring/early summer and berries in the autumn that can be used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Though both the flowers and berries are considered medicinal they have slightly different properties. The white blossoms of the Elder tree have been said to have anti-inflammatory and expectorant qualities, making them potentially useful remedy for unproductive coughs and sore throats. Historically, the berries have been celebrated for their anti-viral properties and can be particularly useful when preserved for winter use and taken at the onset of a cold or flu. The berries are also high in vitamin C and antioxidants and have been used as a skin hydrator and anti-aging tonic.
They also taste amazing. So for this reason at home we try to get them in where we can. I pop the fresh berries in hot cross buns along with raisins, make cordial to take straight to ease sore throat or sip slowly mixed with hot water, infuse them in apple cider vinegar and maple syrup to use in dressings or to mix with soda water for refreshing afternoon drink OR do a this recipe for fresh Elderberry gin.
There are only a few Elderberries left on the trees around Dunedin but these will be the sweetest so get in quick to make this gin. If you can't find any Elderberries, any other wild fruits like blackberries or plums work well too. Use the same method but prick plums a few times with a cocktail skewer before freezing. You can also use dried elderberries but they need to be rehydrated in boiling water overnight first (skip the freezing process here). If you don’t want to use alcohol you can extract the berries with apple cider vinegar using the same method, though the vinegar will preserve for much less time, a year or a little more but keep in fridge to be sure.
*As always when foraging or wildcrafting take care to be mindful, safe and respectful to yourself, the plants and the land. Gather away from roadsides and known spray areas (you can call your local council’s parks department to enquire), ask permission of the land owner, and gather only small amounts from an abundant plant or area. Only take what you know you will use and never more than 1/3 of any plant at the very most. I also ask the plant if its ok….may sound strange but it makes sense to me and brings about a sense of relationship to the food or medicine I am about to make.
This is an unconventional (but fun!) way to make infused alcohol but its good for those who forget to shake the random jar sitting at the back of the cupboard every day or two. The freezing helps break down the tough skin and release the juices inside. An alcohol content of at least 40% is best for extracting medicinals but lower will work too for culinary purposes. Once you have made the base spirit, divide the mixture and try turning a portion into a spicy Elderberry liqueur - the best warming winter nightcap.
Wild Elderberry (or foraged fruit) Gin
Elderberries (or a mixture of Elder, Blackberry, Wild Plum)
High proof gin, vodka or brandy
Large mason jar with tight fitting lid
Gather your berries, as many as you can (think filling the mason jar) and remove from the stalk. You want as little stalk as possible (though a little is ok) as it can hurt some people tummies. Pick out any foreign objects but don't wash unless you really really want to.
Pop in snap lock bag and freeze overnight.
When ready, place frozen berries in mason jar and add enough gin to cover berries completely, you don't want any exposed to air which is why its best to have the right sized jar for the amount of berries. Don’t stress too much though, daily shaking will expose the berries to the alcohol often enough.
Put the lid on tight.Tight as you possibly can. This is where it gets weird. Wrap the jar in bubble wrap, then brown paper, another layer of bubble wrap, then a tea towel. Tie the whole bundle up with string and place it in the boot of your car for 3-4 weeks so it rolls and shakes while you journey (if too risky for you just keep it in a dark cupboard and shake it every day, couple of days or whenever you remember).
You can strain this any where from 1 month or 2 and drink straight away but it is best left to mature for another few months. Serve straight, sipped slowly and intentionally in front of the fire or add to soda, maple syrup and lemon for a rich winter cocktail. Store in a cool dark place and will last many years.
This gin is strong so if liqueur is more your jam then try this….
Spicy Elderberry Liqueur
Double, triple or quadruple this to your needs
1 cup sweetener (sugar, maple etc. I like using coconut sugar)
1 cup water
zest 1 orange
2 cinnamon sticks broken up
1 star anise
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
thumb sized piece of fresh ginger cut small
In a saucepan place all ingredients and bring to a boil while stirring. Once comes up to boil pop the lid on, turn off the heat and leave to infuse for a couple of hours till cooled. Once cooled strain (double strain to get the clearest cordial), then mix with 2 cups of the elderberry gin. Put in pretty bottles and store in a cool dark place. It will last at least a year but put in fridge if you want it to last longer. see strait up over ice. Yum
Penelope (BDes(hons), BCA, ND, Dip. Med Herb) is a trained chef, medical herbalist, naturopath and holistic nutritionist and has recently completed her design thesis which focused primarily on methods of incorporating plants, medicine and feelings of joy into culinary products and experiences.