A couple of weekends back my family and I traveled to Pine, Idaho. Kevin and the girls had been there many times before, camping with AHG, but Little L, Baby F and I had never been. They knew I would love it there with its abundance of trees, endless amounts of foraging, and Steller’s Jays (one of my favorite birds) so they took me on a day trip. I mentioned the trip to one of my neighbors before we left and she said that she found elderberries in that area (She knew I had been searching for them but wasn’t willing to drive on the “cliff of death” to get to them in a location nearby. I named it the cliff of death because it seriously had me in tears the one and only time we drove on it three years ago). With that knowledge in mind, I made it my mission to search for the berries while we were there and teach my children how to find them.
They were not hard to find at all. I actually kept spotting them on the side of the road on our drive up. At first, in my excitement, I wanted to make Kevin pull over the van so I could start gathering some but then I realized that wouldn’t be the best idea. Plants right next to the road are coated in exhaust fumes. So I tried my best to exercise some self control each time we passed another shrub. However, I did keep pointing and blurting out, “Elderberries!” like a little kid. Small steps.
When we arrived at the campsite that AHG used I couldn’t believe my eyes. We were surrounded by beautiful coniferous trees covered in moss, just like back home in Oregon. I could hear the sound of water rushing, squirrels chattering and chickadees chirping. Misty rain kissed my face as it fell all around us. Oh yes, my family knows me well – Pine was just what this Oregonian heart needed.
After I got Baby F in the carrier on me, the girls were running about excited to show me all the wild herbs they spotted there on their last camping trip. On a side note – I am so thankful we got the Herb Fairies set last year. The girls knew how to search for and identify the herbs all on their own. They found curly dock, chamomile, spearmint, blue spruce, lemon balm…and I know there was more but now I have forgotten. I am sure if we had more time to spend there we would find even more. As we climbed down to the river bank I started spying elderberry shrubs. I walked over to examine them and once I knew for certain they were elderberries I showed the children. K told me that she was playing with the berries last camping trip but didn’t realize they were edible (I taught her when she was young to never eat wild berries without checking with me first. I have this fear of wild berries and mushrooms). We started filling our bags with the berries, going from shrub to shrub making sure to leave plenty for the wildlife. In the end we had three overflowing grocery bags filled with elderberries. Plenty to last my family of six through the winter of this year and possibly the next! Once we did some more foraging, soaked in the beauty, played with Kaze in the river and carried a soaking wet Little L back to the van we headed home.
My house has become an elderberry processing plant since then. Would you believe that I am still processing them? I don’t like to work with them around Baby F (choking hazards with poisonous stems) and since he doesn’t seem to want to take naps lately I am slowly moving along. I also discovered that the bloom (white coating) on the elderberries can be tricky and hide the actual color of the berry. They look ripe but when you rub the bloom off you will see they are red or green (poisonous) instead. You can see in the photograph below what I mean. All the berries on that tray looked ripe when I put them in the oven but once the bloom came off there were quite a few green and red ones for me to discard.
I am currently dehydrating batches of them, freezing others as well as making elderberry syrup. I normally use Rosemary Gladstar’s recipe for the syrup (from this book) but this time I decided to try something different and went with this one. The children all agree they like this version better with the cinnamon in it. I think I will try my friend Stephinie’s recipe for our next batch (we’ll even have echinacea root from our own garden to use).
I also went a little elderberry crazy and decided to try my hand at dyeing a skein of wool yarn with help from this book. Of course I didn’t decide this until after I put them in the freezer, which distorts the color a bit. Oh well. I think it came out pretty, still. It was hard to capture but the purple has so much depth to it. C claimed this yarn along with her pink amaranth yarn.
And on that note, I think you probably already know what I am off to do – more processing!