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All Areas > Food & Drink > Wild Food Foraging

Author: Steven Hawley, Posted: Monday, 24th October 2016, 08:00

Elderberries Elderberries

It’s my job to make sure that anything I write in this article won’t end up getting someone killed. Since there is such a huge potential for accidental poisoning when foraging, and I have a finite amount of room to talk about such risks, I include a general health warning at the bottom of each article. But in the case of the elderberry, I think a little more attention to detail is required.

The fruit can be poisonous if not prepared properly

The fruit of the Elder tree (Sambucus Nigra) could be poisonous if not prepared properly. When digested in their raw form, elderberries can produce a cyanide-inducing glycoside. Note the word cyanide. In sufficient quantities this could build up in the body and have as much effect on you as it might on an expendable Hollywood henchman.

There is a fix, however. Cooking the berries will eliminate the aforementioned risk – I would love to explain why but I didn’t pay that much attention in chemistry at school. But I’m confident that the method works, as I made a couple of gallons of elderberry wine a few years back (thoroughly cooking the berries before fermentation) which didn’t last very long, and I’m still here to tell you about it.

Haven’t got the gear for wine making? Try a cordial. Simmer a batch of elderberries for twenty minutes or more (depending on your paranoia) in just enough water to stop them burning. Give them a good mash before straining in a muslin bag and for every pint of juice you get, add 1lb of sugar. Simmer the mixture again for a further 10 minutes, then cool and store in sterilised bottles.

If stored in a cool dark place the cordial should keep for up to a year, if not longer.

If you’re not 100% sure that what you’re picking is safe for human consumption, don’t pick it. If you’re prone to food allergies, or pregnant, always seek medical advice before consuming anything foraged in the wild.

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