Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Elder Flowers, Who Knew Natural Could Be This Dangerous?

How does one find oneself standing on the side of a country road waist deep in grass dressed in a casual denim skirt, t-shirt, and black mary janes? What kind of person stops on their way home from work to pick plants on the roadside in front of the county, God, and everyone?

At the end of last summer an older friend of mine made elderberry jelly. My friend gathered the elderberries from roadside and naturally (at least for me) I was fascinated by the thought of wild elderberries. Something about the phrase “wild elderberry” just sounds so quaint, so not of this century.

I honestly had no idea that elderberries grow here in the US, much less practically in my back yard. In my mind the elderberry was a product of Victorian novels in which Vicars wives in the English countryside plied their husband's parishioners with countless glasses of homemade elderberry wine. (Though, admittedly I once paid an incredibly ridiculous amount of money for a ridiculously small bottle of Echinacea and elderberry syrup at a health food store. I never noticed that it did much for me but its existence should have made me a bit more aware of the elderberry.)

I must acknowledge that when I’m interested in a subject my research and interest tends to verge on the excessive. One might even proclaim that for a brief time I can become obsessive in my focus. This generally goes off after a while and I can move my life on but of course, I do move on with a bit more knowledge tucked into corners of my brain.

Thus it was with elderberries last fall. I read, I researched, I moved on. Then, a few weeks ago I noticed that the elderberry bushes were in blossom.

This is where knowledge can prove to be a dangerous thing. All this knowledge about traditional uses of elder plants and elderberries has been niggling around inside my brain for weeks and it finally drove me out to the roadside shears in hand, for all the world and God to see, so that I might harvest elder blossoms to dry for tea. (Poor Fin has to put up with this kind of behavior all the time. Can you even begin to imagine? I mean I don’t even always understand why I’m compelled to do these appalling things.)

Lest you be encouraged to picture some idyllic countryside moment, I must give you a fuller picture of my adventure.

First, visualize if you will, mosquitoes roughly the size of elephants attacking in full squadron formation, much like the air force of Mother Nature insuring that any enjoyment of the moment be mitigated by sweat inducing swatting, slapping, and arm waving. While the elephant sized skeeters are still in full attack mode the guerilla fighters show up to the party, fire ants out to take down anything that moves with vicious and aggressive tactics. Those soldiers can swarm a mary jane in mere seconds leaving bare ankles and legs victim to foot to foot hopping, leg waving, burning stings. Last, for anyone stubborn enough to stick it out there are the blackberry brambles, sticky vines, and allergy inciting waist high weeds and of course the certainty that somewhere in all that wildness there is most likely a reptile lurking, possibly even a rattler.

It’s truly amazing I made it out with my life much less without a raging attack of West Nile or a venom dripping snake bite.

Obviously, none of this is the recipe for an idyllic afternoon but what can one do in the face of the call of nature? The elder blossoms were blossoming and if they were to be gathered this season it needed to be done. So, gather I did. Next time perhaps I’ll be a bit more prepared, at least mosquito repellent and perhaps skirts aren't appropriate attire for elder flower gathering.

Nonetheless, due to my efforts I currently have a nice little collection of drying elderberry blossoms.

Anyone feel like a cup of tea? Or perhaps you’d like to come for some pancakes. I’ve read they’re nice that way. Anyone up for an elder flower blueberry pancake? I think I could whip us up a few.


  1. Dunno what happened to the comment I made way earlier today when this first appeared. Cute entry and it moved me to re-post my own [true] wild elderberry story on my blog.

  2. Sorry I missed your first comment, never came up. I'm looking forward to reading your entry, except that if I remember correctly that story is a bit icky...

  3. Now I wish someone else was taking pictures of that. I love the description, and will take your word for it (looking at the scene from my vehicle is just fine with me)*S* -Lu

  4. Your memory is as good as ever, as the story does have it's icky component.

  5. Yes, Lu it was amusing looking I'm sure. No one has mentioned it to me at the library so perhaps none or the passing cars were library patrons.

    Fin, yep, icky.

  6. The energy required to do all those things, research, harvest, etc., is admirable. I'm wondering now what this berry is like.

  7. I could hear the squadron of mosquitos and saw in my mind the fire ant dance. I am sure the pancakes are delicious but

    i believe

    i could do with a swig or two of elderberry wine!!!

  8. Your experience perhaps goes a long way toward explaining why natural herbs, etc., cost so dearly in the stores -- the tribulations of the harvest account for the markup!

    Enjoy the tea. You do know about roasted dandelion root as a coffee substitute, too? (grin)

  9. Did anyone just say "tea"? ;)

    No elderberries here - but a lot of nettles and plenty of dandelions!

    Terrific post & story, Bethany :) Enjoy your harvest!


Please play nicely.