Elderberry syrup in bottle and berries in bowl

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...

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. Some varieties of elderberries can be toxic when eaten raw – the best way to avoid this is to make sure you always cook your elderberries well first. There are recipes that use raw elderberries but these are best avoided.

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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. We recommend you consult an expert before picking any wild foods.

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.

Elderberry recipe ideas

Crumbles

The berries have a rich flavour, so they’re delicious when cooked with a bit of sugar and 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

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.

Pies

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.

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

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