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Elderberries are an amazing berry to grow, especially for their benefits to your health. However, they can be a pain to harvest! Looking to learn how to de-stem elderberries more easily? You’ve come to the right place. In this article, we share tips on how to harvest elderberries much more easily, as well as how to know they are ready and how to de-stem elderberries and store them. Sneak preview: we use the wide-toothed comb method to remove elderberries from their stems, and we’ll never go back.

What are elderberries?

Elderberries are a species of flowering plants in the Adoxaceae family. Elderberries are native to Europe, North America, and parts of Asia and they grow in clusters on bushes or trees. Elderberry varieties include the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), European elderberry (Sambucus nigra), and black elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis). If you are growing elderberries for human consumption, be sure to choose one of these safe varieties.

Elderberries have been used for centuries in jams, jellies, pies, and wines. They are rich in antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and E. Elderberries also contain flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. Recent studies have shown that elderberry extract can help to reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu symptoms. Elderberry supplements are available in capsules, tablets, tinctures, and syrups – and you can make your own elderberry syrup at home!

For more information on growin elderberries, see our article on how to grow elderberries from cuttings!

Are elderberries poisonous?

The elderberry plant is poisonous if ingested in large quantities. All parts of the elderberry plant – leaves, stems, roots, berries – contain a toxic compound called glycoside. When elderberries are cooked (as in jams, pies, and wines), the glycoside breaks down and is no longer toxic. It is safe to consume elderberries that have been cooked. Do not consume elderberries that have not been cooked, as they may cause stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you are foraging for wild elderberries, be sure to remove the berries from from stems and cook them before eating.

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Ripe elderberries ready to harvest.

When are elderberries ready to harvest?

Elderberries are ripe and ready to harvest when they are dark purple or black in color. Elderberries will come off of the stem easily when they are ready to harvest. You can test this by gently squeezing an elderberry – if it pops off of the stem, it is ready to be harvested. If it does not come off easily, wait a few more days and check again. When they are ready, the bunches of elderberries will weight down the stem and face downward, like an upside-down umbrella.

How do you harvest elderberries?

The easiest way to harvest elderberries is to cut off the entire bunch of berries from the stem. This method is much quicker than individually removing each berry from the stem. Look for bunches of elderberries that are completely ripe then cut just above the point where all of the individual stems come together. This will not harm your elderberry bush.

How do you de-stem elderberries?

Once you have harvested bunches of elderberries, they can be removed from the stem using a wide-toothed comb. You can do this when they are fresh, however, we find this process works even better if we FREEZE the elderberries right on their stems before removing them with the comb. This way the berries do not get smashed by the comb and simply fall off into the bowl like tiny little marbles. This method for removing elderberries from stems is quick and easy, and it doesn’t damage the elderberries. Watch the video below to see how easy it is!

How to store elderberries

Once you have harvested your elderberries and removed them from the stem, you should use or store them as soon as possible.

To freeze elderberries, simply place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper then pop them in the freezer (much like you would do for blueberries or strawberries). Once they are frozen solid, transfer the elderberries to a freezer-safe storage bag or container. Frozen elderberries will last for up to 12 months.

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Freeze elderberries on a tray first.

You can also dry elderberries by spreading them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and placing them in a dehydrator set to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry elderberries until they are crisp but still pliable – this will take 12-24 hours depending on how humid it is where you live.

Or, you can use your elderberries to make juice or syrup. The resulting product can be canned or frozen for longer term storage. We love using elderberry juice to flavor seltzers, and syrup to boost our immunity over the winter!

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Carrie Williams Howe is an educational leader by day and an aspiring homesteader by night and weekend. She lives on a small homestead in Vermont with her husband, two children, and a rambunctious border collie. She blogs about her family's homestead life at The Happy Hive.

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