How to Make Elderberry Wine @ Common Sense Homesteading

How to make elderberry wine – it’s something I’ve wondered about since watching Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail many years ago.  :-)   (“Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.”)

Now that I’ve gotten into wildcrafting and learned that elderberries are loaded with antioxidants (they’ve made it into the superfood category), I thought wine would be a great way to use the abundance of local elderberries. (I’ll also be making more jellies and syrups this year, too.)  The wine isn’t done yet, but people have been asking for the recipes, so I thought I’d share my experience to date.

How to Find Elderberries

Elderberries like moist soil, so you’ll find them in ditches, along the edges of wet woodlands, near lakes and rivers, and other damp ground.  They are native to North America, and can be found throughout most of the US and Eastern Canada, except for in the northwest (see USDA elderberry range map).

We went foraging for elderberries along country roads here in northeast Wisconsin.  My friends had scouted out the area in previous years, so they knew where to start looking.  The plants don’t look very showy, but you can watch for the clumps of berries near the top.  Here’s an elderberry patch we spotted on the side of the road.

elderberry patch

roadside elderberry patch

Be careful to make sure you have a positive identification.  Elderberry is sometimes confused with water hemlock, inkberry, or pokeberry, but if you look closely, they plants are quite different.

You can see the elderberry berries are the top of the post.  They grow in clusters that stick out above the foliage.  If you look closely at the photo above (click on it to enlarge), you can see dark blobs in the shrubs.  Elderberry leaves on soft green stems in pairs.

elderberry leaves

elderberry leaves

Alternatively, if you can’t find elderberries in the wild, some folks are now raising them for sale (but you normally have to buy in quantity, unless you can find them locally).  Elderberry Life will ship a minimum order of 25 pounds of elderberries.  You either need to make a lot of elderberry products, are share with friends.

Berries are most easily harvested by snipping off the clumps and gathering them in a bucket.  They will stain if smashed, so trying to strip off individual berries is asking for a mess.  I like to tie a bucket around my waist and wade right in.

Laurie picking elderberries

In the middle of an elderberry thicket

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