Edible California: Elder

A potent healer found not only in California but all over the world, the elder tree provides a variety of sweet treats and medicinal concoctions. I happened across an Elder Tree while staying at the San Benito Thousand Trails outside of Paicines, California. It was early Autumn and it struck me that I should say something about Elder since it’s so good for use during our cold and flu season. So here you are…

A Little About Elder

The flowers and berries are the usual parts used, though leaves and the bark have also been used medicinally. The bark and wood are historically used for tools though. Red elder is not recommended for ingestion due to the amount of toxins it contains unless you are careful about cooking it and removing all the seeds. If harvesting in your area, check with a local herbalist or other plant authority to ensure you’re collecting the right flowers or berries. It’s also a good idea not to eat too many of the raw black (purple) berries as they can cause digestive issues. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be talking about the edible black berries – Sambucus nigra for example.


The berries are a huge immune booster as well as antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant. These days, you can find all sorts of cold and flu remedies containing elderberries in any natural food store and in most regular grocery stores.

The berries can be made into wine or a syrup (for medicine or just to eat), fried as fritters, cooked in pies or muffins, preserved as jellies or jams, and more. Just do a quick Internet search for ‘elderberry recipe’ and you’ll find literally millions of results. I suggest narrowing your search. 😉


The flowers are also anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antioxidant.

They can be used for tea or even as a facial or eye wash. Because of their antioxidant properties, they can help protect your skin. I imagine a lotion or cream would be nice and smell good too! Be careful if you make a cold tea or infusion as it heightens the flowers’ diuretic capabilities. If you’re making a tea to battling a fever, especially if you’re not sweating;it’s said that adding peppermint and yarrow will help even more.

The flowers can be made into beautiful cordial and liqueurs (St Germain is just one example). They can also be baked into cakes and muffins and more.

Where to Buy?

If you’re unable to harvest your own elderberries, you can certainly buy them. If your local co-op or grocer doesn’t provide them – ask for them. If they just aren’t available locally, you can go online to order fresh or dried. Heck, even Amazon sells them! I’ve found that the flowers are more difficult to find locally, but most of the online herbal shops will sell them including my favorite, Mountain Rose Herbs.

Elderberry Syrup

Great for pancakes, waffles and French toast as well boosting your immune system!

  • 1 cup fresh or ½ cup dried elder berries
  • 3 cups water
  • Honey to taste

Bring water and berries to boil, then simmer for 30-45 minutes. Let cool, then smash the berries and strain through a mesh sieve. Add honey to taste. It can be kept in your refrigerator for 2-3 months. You can also add cloves or ginger when simmering if desired. Put them in early for a stronger flavor or later for a lighter one.