Homemade Elderberry Wine is, without a doubt, the most refined, distinguished and classic wildcrafted wine I have ever made. I would love to show you how it is done.
Now is the time. The Elderberries are starting to ripen and are perfect for making Elderberry wine, Elderberry syrup, Elderberry jam and jelly, or Elderberry pies. The berries must be fully ripe and as dark as they can be, to make the best Elderberry Products. They should leave your hands and mouth stained a dark and intense purple.
If you are going to make only one wild berry wine this life, then make Elderberry Wine.
We have two beautiful specimens of native Elderberry bushes in the Apothecary’s Garden at the Teaching gardens in Westdale Hamilton.
They were planted about 12 years ago. They struggled, and have never done well in the gardens till now.. This is the first year, and it must be from all the love and care that they’re getting from our wonderful volunteers since we renovated the Apothecary’s Garden. WOW!! They look beautiful! They are laden with heavy droops of dark shiny fruit, and ready to be harvested.
I have noticed other local bushes are not quite ready for harvest, so, as of writing this post, (19 August), there is a window of 2-3 weeks to harvest your Elderberries. If you can’t get to making your wine, syrup or other Elderberry product, you can, freeze them for a while without compromising quality. Don’t overdo it though. 1-2 months in the freezer if you are making wine from them, up to 6 months if you are making an Elderberry syrup is my advised maximum.
Here in North America we have our native variety of Elderberry, called Sambucus Canadensis. It is a little different then the Sambucus Nigra of Europe.
The flowers of our variety are a little less fragrant, but Medicinally the properties are pretty much identical as far as I know.
Elder flowers are excellent as a Tea in the winter, or a refreshing drink in the summer when kept in the form of a syrup. I believe Ikea sells a version of Elderflower syrup, though I doubt it could compete with homemade. The gently dried Elderflowers make an exquisite Wildcrafted tea.
Keep this all in mind for next spring if you have an abundance of flowers on your bushes. Whether collecting the flowers reduces the yield of berries is a question I have yet to answer.
But the berries, AHH, The Elderberries, make the finest of wines! There is no wild wine, in my experience, that can outshine a decently crafted Elderberry Wine.
One issue I usually have with our local Elderberries, is the lack of tartness and tannins, (Though this year our Apothecary Garden bushes do, inexplicably, have a little more tartness to them.) I don’t know if the same issue exists with its European cousin, but there are a couple of effective methods to balance the flavour.
My favourite way to address this, the simplest, and a very elegant solution, is to add some of our local wild grapes. Anywhere from 10% to 20%. These tiny grapes, sometime called Fox grapes, haven’t much flesh, they are mostly seed and skin, but they have a rich and intensely tart flavour! Beautiful colour. Along with some mouth puckering tannins that not only compliment the Elderberry Wine perfectly, but seem to make the yeasty beasties, (the wine yeast), very happy. It is easiest to add the wild grapes with the first “cooking” of juices”, but the grape juice can be made separately and added later in the primary fermentation, if you find the flavour needs adjusting. This year the wild grapes, as most other wild fruit in our neighborhood, are bountiful, and it just so happens their fruit is ripening in tandem with the Elderberries. Quite perfect thank you.
These Wild grapes, on their own, serve up a pretty amazing Syrup that you can use for ice cream, a refreshing cold summer beverage when mixed with soda or cold water and for sauces and marinades. My room-mate uses it as a base for his Kefir fermentations. The delicious and deeply coloured Wild Grape Syrup can be used as an addition to many things. Utilized in jams and jellies, and when mixed with other wild fruit, can of course make a unique wild crafted wine.
Another way to address this lack of acidity in our local elderberries is to add pure acids to the unfermented wine, the juice or must. Ascorbic acid, Citric acid and Malic acid are commonly used to adjust acid levels and flavour in home-made wines, and are available at most “Brew your own”, and winemaking supply stores. Often a little tannin from oak bark or any other natural source, (Goldenrod Galls), enriches the flavour of Elderberry wine.
Taste your berries, but especially taste your juice and the must of your primary fermentation periodically, these are the best times to adjust the flavours of your wine.
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, my favourite secret ingredient to add to wild wines, jams, jellies and syrups is Wild Ginger. Asarum Canadense. Added to Elderberry Wine, A little Wild Ginger is simply transformative, without being overbearing or even obvious. There is some natural affinity, chemistry or Alchemy between them.. Wild ginger added to Elderberry wine brings out depth and richness in the wine along with subtle woody, Balsamic and, delicate, sweet spice notes with creamy nuances that dance in your nose and around your taste buds.
Please see my post, Wild Ginger Flavourfull, Fragrant Northern Treasure.
Elderberry wine needs time to mature and mellow, at the very least, six months before you drink it. It is truly a classic and distinguished wine that can outshine some of the expensive store-bought vintages. Seriously!! Hands down. Its colour is gorgeously, expensively rich, It will improve with age and will keep for many many years.
Another great use for Elderberries is as a cough & cold syrup. I have heard, one can now buy a premade Elderberry syrup in some of the health food stores. At quite a dear price!!! It is so simple to make yourself, I will try to post a recipe or two for Elderberry Syrup. This can be made as a traditional “Rob” with no sugar added. Simply juice of Elderberries boiled down to the consistency of honey. Or you could add sugar or honey as a sweetener. These will all give you equally great results. Served in hot water, the Elderberry syrup will help produce a sweat which is often useful treating colds, flu and viruses, it is traditionally used as a cough syrup and to ease sore throats. (Especially with some Wild Ginger added to it!).
There is a lot of folklore, mythology, Magic and medicine around the Elder tree. If you’re into the energetics of plants, Elder has a very distinct personality and rich esoteric history. Ruled, it is said by Saturn, ( I swear there is a powerful presence of Venus involved).
Many cultures have important myths and folklore around the Elder.
Is said that the first Panpipes were made from the Elderberry wood. (By Pan himself?).
Some say that the first popguns were made of elder wood.
I’m sure they would make great blowguns.
I have made spiles for collecting Maple Syrup, from Elderberry wood.They work well and last for many years. ( I Can’t find my photos anywhere!!), If you are going to drill holes in trees, it seems somehow more considerate to hammer wood into the holes and not cold metal, right?. I know I would prefer it if I was a maple tree.
Medicinally all parts of The Elder tree have been used. There is ongoing research into the healing potential of the Elder, fruit, leaf, flower, berry and root, and much information available online for those who would like to learn more.
Any way you look at the Elderberry bush, it has a powerful presence, personality and history about it. You do not want to mess with it or treat it with disrespect. This is a general no brainer rule with plants, and trees especially, but the Elder seems to have an army of minions and unseen supporters, a powerful protective and protected presence about it. (Often traditionally used for hedgerows, fences and protective barriers all over Europe). In popular European Folklore, it is said that if you sit under the Elder at midnight, on midsummer Eve, you will see, and be able to communicate with the Fairies.
Mrs. Grieves, in her book “A Modern Herbal”, presents a great collection of magic, myth and folklore, medicinal uses, current and historic, and many culinary recipes covering not only Elder, but hundreds of traditional medicinal plants. This is a book that anyone who has any interest in Herbalism or the Apothecary Arts, must peruse at least. I will include a link to a free online edition. (Or check in my “Astrodynamics 101” page).
O.K., So, without further ado, (and Gemini rambling), here is my recipe for making a very, very fine Elderberry wine. Please remember, a recipe is only a starting point. Good quality ingredients help, as do sterilized tools and vessels, proper temperatures and methods all help. But, This is an Art, not a science. you do not have to be an expert, just be present with your passion and enthusiasm. It is about a process not a product. Your relationship and process with the Elderberry bush, Mother Nature, your creativity, this is about enriching your life experience, and that of those around you. Just bring your personality and experience, or lack thereof, your passion, inspiration and intuition. The end product will be a little different each year, and hopefully a little better as well. Always keep notes, legible notes, so you can learn from your mistakes and from your successes. Your future self will thank you. And Good Luck!
A Recipe for a Very Fine Elderberry Wine
For every gallon of wine you wish to make,You will need–
- Juicy ripe Elderberries,1/2 gallon, (2 liters volume),
- 1 Kilogram of white sugar, 4 cups.
- Approximately 1 to 2 cups volume, Wild grapes, you can add more if you think it needs more acid or tannin. Explore.
- 4 liters of water
- Sodium Metabisuphite for sterilizing ALL tools and vessels before use. (instructions for use are included at time of purchase). Can also be used as a preservative for finished products if this interests you.
- 50 grams dried Wild ginger pieces, or 200 grams fresh Wild Ginger rhizomes, scrubbed clean.
- A package of yeast, (usually good for 20 liters or 5 gallons of wine), either speciality yeast used for wild or floral wines, or a grape wine yeast of your choice, or simply any bread yeast you come across or like.
- Some yeast nutrient. It really helps, if you ever feel things have slowed down prematurely, or stopped, and your yeast is not happy, healthy or working hard transforming your sugar. If you need to kickstart a primary fermentation that has stopped, or if you want to give your yeast a boost to reduce sugar and increase alcohol. Or let them know you love them. Train them.
- 5-10 cloves for flavour.
Method and Process
- For every 2 liters volume,( 1/2 Gallon), of fresh, ripe Elderberries, add however much wild grapes you wish to add, 1-2 cups or so.
- mush up all berries after measuring and prior to boiling.
- Boil 4 liters ,(1 Gallon) of water and set aside 4 cups ,( 1 kilogram) of white sugar.
- Add fresh or frozen fruit to the water and boil for 20-30 minutes.
- Turn off heat and let sit till it is cool enough to handle.
- Pour liquid through a pillowcase or layered cheesecloth.
- Squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the berries, then either compost the residue or return it to the land.
- Put your juice in a large pot, bring back to a boil, add sugar, cloves and wild ginger, tannin or bark, or more wild grapes or wild grape juice, if you think you need it and bring to a boil. This is your first opportunity to taste and test your wine, to start making any adjustments, adding the flavourings, (and keeping diligent notes!) If you make a “sachet” a cloth or cheesecloth bag with the spices or extra,(smushed), grapes inside it, you will not need to filter it again before primary fermentation.
- Simmer for 20 minutes, let it cool till it is warm to the touch,just not hot, remove your sachet.
- Pour the warm juice into a food grade plastic bucket, (or two, depending how much you are making. (These are also available at wine supply stores).
- In a separate cup, jar or container add 1/2 cup lukewarm water and 1/2 cup warm juice. Stir in the yeast and wait for it to activate, froth, foam or bubble. When the yeast is nicely active, stir it into the sterilized bucket with your juice. Cover with cheesecloth or towel to keep bugs out and allow air into the bucket. I use a large elastic band or two that fit the circumferance of the bucket and hold the towel in place so it does not sag into the wine and contaminate it.
- Your wine should start fizzing within 24 hours. If it does not, repeat the yeast mixing process and after stirring your yeast mix into the juice, or must, mix in a teaspoon of yeast nutrient to kick start it.
- Leave it undisturbed for 1-6 weeks in a warmish place to work.
- When it ceases to make a fizzing or hissing sound then it is time to “rack” it to a sterile glass container and put an airlock on it. (Or a balloon pulled over the mouth of the vessel poked with a pin a few times), See Dandelion wine recipe.
- After racking, siphoning off all the clear liquid, put it in a dark cool place for secondary fermentation. A basement is usually good and let it sit for 2-4 weeks undisturbed.
- Rack it again to another sterile vessel or carboy, leaving the must undisturbed on the bottom of the carboy. Racking is one of the points in the process where you sacrifice some of the liquid, in case you wondered how 6 liters of the original liquid ended up being only 4 liters of wine.
- At this point you could let it sit undisturbed for another 2-4 weeks then siphon it directly into sterile wine bottles, cork the bottles after boiling the corks for 20 minutes, (using an upside down plate to hold the corks under the boiling water, they will want to float on top). Set it aside till December at the earliest. Some people will rack their wine 4, 5 or 6 times before bottling, I prefer 3-4 rackings, 3-4 weeks apart. Some will run it through a vaccuum or pressure filtering system before bottling. Some lay their bottles on their sides to keep the corks moist, others just stand them up, your choice. There is much information on home brewing and winemaking techniques online if you would like to gird yourself with as much information as you can before starting.
Good Luck! And remember to always take clear and legible notes. Your future self will thank you!!
Please feel free to leave me a note in the comments section if you have any questions at all. I am happy to hear from you and will get back to you ASAP.