In this post learn how we harvest ripe elderberries from shrub to freezer. We have found late summer to early fall is the best time for harvesting ripe elderberries. We put up the small bluish berries every year for both food and medicine. Here are a few tips for you to help make foraging this delicious wild fruit easier.
Harvesting Ripe Elderberries
Ripe blue elderberries are ready to harvest from late August to mid-September. As a result, berries will have a chance to ripen and sweeten up.
A good example of a ripening elderberry is the light dusting of wild yeast found on the fruit. This indicates the berries will soon be ready to pick. Also, the berry will soften to the touch as it matures to ripeness.
Where to find elderberry shrubs to harvest
In our area of Oregon, the species of elderberry; Sambuscus cerulea is an interior variety that bears clusters of small, blue, berries when ripe.
This species of Sambuscus grows upcountry from the coast. It likes riparian zones that are open to sunlight along streams with good drainage.
But we also forage for blue Elderberries in drier habitats. For instance, northern California's Klamath mountains. We gather Elderberry fruit from low country to elevations of 6,000 ft., each summer.
How to harvest ripe elderberries
The elder can get quite tall for a shrub. We harvest from individual shrubs that near 12 ft. in height. They have long round semi-fragile stalks that sprout from a central core. As the stalks grow taller, they tend to bend outward. Especially when loaded with fruit.
The stems and branches have a soft core not solid. This makes the stems easy to break when bent to extreme.
Use a Hook Stick for harvesting elderberries
Years ago, I cut a Rhododendron limb with a corresponding branch that made a hook. In the photo I can hook the flexible branches that grow the berry clusters. And bring them within reach for harvesting ripe elderberries.
If the elder stalks aren't too big in diameter, we can pull the fruit bearing branches down to reach them. Remember not bend the fragile stalks to much as they will break.
Cutting the clusters
We use our thumbnails to cut the berry clusters from the thin green stems. Garden scissors work well. A 5-gallon bucket is handy for collecting the elderberries. The bucket with a handle and a wide mouth makes it easy to load and carry the elderberries.
Sorting elderberries for freezing and drying
Using a cardboard box, we take the elderberries from the bucket and sort through the berries. Cleaning out any leaves or insects that may have inadvertently ended up in the bucket. Any larger stems are discarded as we are interested only in saving the fruit.
Freezing trick to remove stems from elderberries
Christine, who does the syrup making around here. Developed a neat trick for removing the small berries from the stems.
Freeze the elderberries with the stems attached. In a paper sack. Throw it in the freezer stems and all.
After the elderberries haven frozen hard. Take the sack from the freezer and give the sack a few good shakes. Off come the berries from the stems. Easy and no hassle.
Remove the stems from the sack then pour the berries into a colander and sort again. This freezing trick makes removing the berries from the stems easy.
Frozen blue elderberries
Elderberry pole hook
Any long stick or a light pole with a hook will work for pulling the elderberry branches within reach. Here is a photo of the harvest pole I made.
To sum it up
A few things to know about the Sambuscus cerulea fruit. Always cook the berries completely before eating. The elderberries can cause nausea when eaten raw. Drying does not completely rid the fruit of the toxin. But cooking the dried berries do.
The leaves and bark contain more of the offending Hydrocyanic Acid then the berries. So be cautious when handling the green parts of the plant.
Our native wild plants offer an abundance of goodness, And the Elderberry is no exception. We hope this article has helped you with some of our favorite tricks for harvesting ripe elderberries.