Reason # 1: Medicine
Sure, the flu is just about the farthest thing from anyone’s mind during these sunny days of early summer, but this is the ideal time to harvest flu medicine in the form of fragrant elderberry flowers, Sambucus spp., which can be tinctured or dried and infused in a tea. (More on elderberry for the flu here.)
I decided to make an elder flower tincture with some yarrow (Achillea millefolium) flowers and leaves mixed in because yarrow is another herb for the flu that works in a complimentary way. Whereas elder is an anti-viral, yarrow is a diaphoretic, helping the body cook pathogens and sweat out toxins.
Tincture recipe: Fill glass jar with flowers. Then fill halfway with Everclear or similarly ridiculously strong alcohol. Fill rest of the way with water. Cover and let sit in dark place for six weeks. Voila.
Reason #2: Food
I’m looking forward to frying the elder flowers into fritters after being inspired by another foraging blogger, Wild Food Girl (no relation, despite our similar faux blogger names), who lives in Colorado. She posted photos of deep-fried elderberry flowers on her Facebook page and I started thinking, hmm, I’ve got some left-over acorn flour from last fall, why not give that a shot? So I think I’ll try a few different kinds of flower fritters: elderberry, dandelion, and day lily.
How to Identify Elderberry
There are three main kinds of elderberry, American (black), Sambucus nigra, which is a shrub up to 4 meters tall; blue, Sambucus cerulea, a tree up to 12 meters tall that grows in dry, open habitats; and red, Sambucus racemosa, which likes stream banks, moist clearings and open forests. I see red elderberry most often in the local parks. The distinction between these kinds matters not at all in terms of harvesting flowers. But when the berries come around for eating, the black and blue are far, far tastier, and good to eat raw, whereas the red must be cooked first because they reportedly contain higher levels of toxins in them. The red elderberries are indeed red, or else yellow-orange. The black and blue berries are good candidates to become jam, syrup, wine, etc.
There are actually even more varieties of elderberry, especially in urban and suburban settings, where people like to plant it as an ornamental. Normally the flowers are a spray of white, but the one I found was pink and growing on a purple tree. I knew it was elderberry because of the leaf pattern and shape of the flowers.
All parts of all elderberry species other than the flowers and berries contain cyanide-producing compounds, so it is a good idea to avoid the leaves, stems and bark when harvesting for food or medicine.
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