How to pick and cook elderberries

Elderberries are at their best in autumn and can be used for all kinds of tasty treats like crumbles, pies, jams and even liqueurs. Read on for more ideas...

Elderberries on a platter

From around August to October elderberries are in season and ready for picking. They're not grown commercially so if you want fresh berries be prepared to go foraging.

What to look out for

  • Small purplish-black berries, hanging in clusters.
  • Berries can be red in colour but this is less common. 
  • They are a hedgerow plant and grow on small shrubs.

Check out our guide to foraging for more information on the best way to gather wild produce.

What can elderberries be used for? 

Elderberries have lots of culinary uses such as crumbles, pies, jams and liqueurs. First, remove the berries from the stalks – you can do this quickly by using the prongs of a fork. Be sure to wear an apron as the inky juices will stain clothes.


Orchard crumble
The berries have a rich flavour, so they're delicious when mixed with other lighter autumn fruits such as apples, pears and plums. Try adding a handful of elderberries to a fruit crumble, cobbler, pie or a summer pudding.

Jams and chutneys

Hedgerow ketchup
They can also be made into jams, chutneys and sauces, which have a wonderful fruity flavour, although the berries are low in pectin so need the addition of jam sugar or lemon juice to ensure a set. Try our hedgerow ketchup for using up a glut of glorious fruit.

Syrups and sauces

Berry sauces on shelf
Elderberry syrup, made by cooking the berries with water and sugar, straining, then boiling the liquid until reduced and syrupy, is delicious drizzled over ice cream or plain yogurt or added to a glass of sparkling water or white wine.


Elderberry and almond pie
Put your sprigs to good use with our elderberry and almond pie, bursting with the flavours of the season. It makes an indulgent family dessert served with a scoop of ice cream or a drizzle of fresh cream.


Liqueur in decanter and glass
Elderberries can be used to make a liqueur in the same way as sloe gin.

  • Steep 225g elderberries and 115g sugar in 600ml gin or vodka, with a twist of lemon peel.
  • Seal tightly and leave for about 3-4 months before drinking. It makes a nice homemade Christmas gift for the berry aficionado. 

The Food Standards Agency recommends cooking elderberries to destroy toxins present in the raw berries that may cause you to feel unwell. 

Have you tried cooking with elderberries? Let us know in the comments below...

Comments, questions and tips

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17th Sep, 2017
Some great ideas here. I have just tried adding elderberries in a bread recipe. I threw a handful of fresh elderberries into my bread dough and cooked at 230 for 25 minutes. The resulting bread is delicious ... but two slices made my head spin as if I had been on a playground roundabout. It might just be me or maybe I should have pre-cooked the berries before putting them in the dough.
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22nd Aug, 2018
Elderberry is great for warding off colds and flu-like symptoms, provided you take it as soon as you start feeling something like that coming on. To this end, every year I make a cordial with elderberries and spices - diluted with hot water this makes a lovely warming drink to have in the evening. Most of the time we wake up the following morning and our symptoms have disappeared so it's not only delicious but a practical home remedy, too. For those interested, here's the recipe: 2 kg elderberries on the stem - strip the berries off into a large pan, then add: 150 ml water 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped 2 sticks cinnamon 1 teaspoon cloves 1 teaspoon allspice Freshly grated nutmeg - about a teaspoon Boil all this together for a good half hour. Strain through muslin into a clean pan, measure and for every 550ml of juice add 350g sugar or honey (or a combination). Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. For adults only: when you turn off the heat you can add 150ml brandy at this stage. Pour into sterilised bottles and then sterilise (as for ketchups, see elsewhere on this site). This keeps all winter in unopened bottles. We keep any opened bottles in the fridge.