We picked elderberries in NY when I was a kid, and our most memorable picking season ended when the boys tromped across a log filled with bees. . . I learned the word “swarm” that day, as well as the medicinal effects of mud. We were not picking berries for any sort of medicinal benefits, but Mrs. Estelle made an amazing elderberry pie.
Yesterday, in a burst of inspired procrastination, I made another batch of elderberry extract in the Instant Pot. First introduced to the benefits of elderberries (beyond pie) when I lived in Israel, I try to keep a stock of the extract on hand to ward off the impacts of living in a fallen world.
The extract has been demonstrated by multiple medical studies to promote a healthy immune system and reduce the impact of the cold and flu viruses. Here is a summary of one study and benefits and cautions included in another one. The berries have to be cooked: I’ve tried to eat them dried and fresh, and they are awful, probably due to the high concentration of naturally occurring cyanide! So anyway, be careful.
I’ve been making the extract for about 5 years, and have made it on the stove as well as in the Instant Pot. As with just about everything, the Instant Pot is considerably faster and more simple. I started with somebody else’s recipe like this one or this one. Some people get pretty fancy, and even make gummies for their kids.
So here is my own basic recipe–and for those of you who have ever cooked with me, by “basic” I mean that everything is up for negotiation.
- 2 cups of Elderberries (Amazon carries them.)
- 4-5 cups of water
- 4-6 sticks of cinnamon
- 6-10 cloves
- Zest of 2 lemons or oranges (or use a veggie peeler)
- Juice of two lemons or oranges
- A inch or two of sliced or shredded ginger (you can’t really have too much)
- Add any optional flavoring you want to try: 1/4 c. dried lavender, 3 Earl Grey tea bags, 2 sliced apples, handful of dried cranberries or raisins, a handful of strawberries, a few dates. . . you get the idea
- You will need a sweetener at the very end of the process, but I’ll explain later what that looks like.
Put everything BUT the sweetener in the Instant Pot. I like to put my cinnamon and cloves in a small cloth bag or tied in a handkerchief so that I can pull them out easily.
Close it down, and set it on manual (the only button I actually use) for 8 minutes. Let it natural release for 8-10 minutes, remove the lid, and remove the cinnamon and cloves (and tea if you use it for flavoring) as they will become bitter when boiled too long. Set on saute and let cook for 10-15 minutes with the lid off, stirring occasionally.
If you are working on the stove, put everything but the sweetener in the pan, cook on medium heat for 45 minutes or so, stirring frequently.
Once off the heat, use a potato masher on the contents. Strain the liquid into glass jars. I fill my jars 3/4 full as seen above, use plastic lids, and set them on an angle in the freezer til they are frozen and can be laid down in the freezer. When I need a new bottle, I pull it out, add my sweetener, and put an easy pour lid on the glass jar.
A word on the sweetener: Probably the most beneficial sweetener, at least for adults and older children, is a local honey. Honey should not be cooked, so adding it at the end of the process is necessary to preserve its properties. I prefer mine with real New York Maple Syrup that my cousin makes, but have also used black strap molasses in a pinch. Most recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of the extract to sweetener, but that is far too sweet for me. I use just under 1/4 c sweetener per 3/4 cup of extract.
Of course, you could always buy it, but what is the fun in that? Also, it will cost you an arm and a leg. The recipe above without the sweetener made 60 oz for around $12.
As for use, I generally add a tablespoon to my water in the morning. If people around me are sick or if I am feeling a little puny, I’ll take a tablespoon every 3 hours til I feel better.