Common Elderberry (Sambucas canadensis) makes an excellent nutritious jam, jelly or medicinal tincture that can boost your immune system. This is a plant native to North America that can be easily propagated and planted in abundance for yourself and wildlife!
There are different methods at different times of year but the way I do it is to make cuttings of the stems in winter. You want to cut stems the width of a crayola marker that have two sets of nodes. I make a sharp angled cut below the nodes to easily see which side is the bottom. These cuttings are placed in a bucket of water in a dark cool space until the roots begin to grow in two months. The water can be changed periodically. Once the chance of frost is over they can be planted in fertile soil and full to partial sun to grow on their own.
Once the plant has established over a year it will go to flower and produce berries at the end of August (in NJ). The berries are cherished by birds so plant extra to share and be alert to harvest what you need before the birds do. I cut the stems and drop them into a paper bag and then place it in the freezer. Once the berries are frozen they are easily removed from the stems with a fork so you don’t make a mess of stem bits and squished berries. The berries are antioxidant rich, high in vitamin C and iron.
The berries can then be simmered down and pressed through a cloth or strainer to remove the seeds. The berry juice is now available to be made into jams and jellies.
To make the tincture I don’t cook the berries but just place them in a jar and cover with 80% proof vodka. This is placed in a cool dark place for a few weeks and then strained so the berries are removed.
David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula. He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife. You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com