I first learned of elderberries when I was in my early 20's. I was living in Milton (near Toronto) and one of my friends mom made a peach and elderberry pie. What was this elderberry she used? As a city girl, I had never heard or seen them before. They are tedious to work with for cooking to a certain degree so I suppose that is why you don't see them in the grocery stores. This is so disappointing to me! Variety is what can make food interesting!

Over the years I have experimented with the berries, however last year was the first time I started making things with the elder flowers. Walking past elderberries first thing in the morning you can't miss them. Their scent is unbelievably fragrant. You can find elderberry bushes along roadside ditches in your area. I truly believe more people should be planting them as an edible ornamental in urban areas. The blooms are gorgeous, you can use the flowers and the berries for food and if you don't have time to make anything from them, the birds will love you in the fall when the berries are ready to harvest.

Elderberries are big business in the UK. I can't recall ever seeing elderflower cordials in any of our stores? Yet, the Europeans seem to know and love it overseas. Perhaps because elderberries were so prevalent in Canada that they went out of "style" in the 1940's? If you check in old recipe books, you will find that our grandmothers and great grandmothers knew what they were and cooked with them as well as used them medicinally. 
First you need to know how to handle elderflowers. They are extremely fragile. 
  • The flowers need to be picked first thing in the morning. This is when they have the most scent. Interestingly enough, if you collect them during the heat of the day they don't have near the scent they do in the early morning or late at night. 
  • The flowers tops need to be picked while in bloom. You will see their tiny buds. Those buds need to be flowering in order to use them for any recipe. Unopened buds have little to no flavour. 
  • Make sure the flowers aren't turning brown. Once they start to turn they are to old. Leave them to ripen into berries for later use.
  • The pollen is what makes the flavour, so don't rinse the flowers before using. 
  • Remove the green stems of the flower head. Just snip off the flowers in bunches into your water. If you leave the stems on, it will turn the infusion rank. Seriously. Try it and find out how gross it will become. 
  • Many recipes call for the flowers to steep in boiled water. The blooms are way too delicate for this! Just allowing the flowers to infuse in distilled water is sufficient. 
  • Don't snip off all of the flowers! Leave enough for the bees to use and for berry production later in the season. 

Now....how do you make elderflower cordial? It's actually pretty simple. The most difficult part is finding the shrub usually!
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You will need 20 flower heads. Snip off the flowers and put them into a large mason jar or medium sized bowl.  

Make about 8 cups of simple syrup (1:1) and allow it to cool. Add another 2 cups of distilled water. I found my original batch was WAY to sweet. Pour over the elderflowers. Add to this 1/4 cup lemon juice. Cover with a cheesecloth. Allow to infuse for 3 days. 

Strain the elderflowers from the sugar water mixture into a separate bowl. 
Pour into sterilized mason jars. Watercan for 10 minutes. 

Once the syrup has been canned, you can use the syrup by adding a 1/4 cup to a large pitcher and adding seltzer water or you can add 7-Up or Sprite. Add it to a weak lemonade. Have fun with it. You will find what flavour seems best for your family. Enjoy!


 
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Mulberries...a super berry! Who remembers the song "All Around the Mulberry Bush...the Monkey Chased the Weasel..."? Children danced around these berries!

Mulberries have been used for centuries in various recipes. Mulberry wine, mulberry cordial, mulberry pie and jams. This is one fruit that gives profusely however they have sadly fallen out of fashion. I'm sure it is because they can be tedious to pick or that they don't have an intense flavour. I have yet to see mulberries by the basket full at our local farmer's markets.  

The trick to harvesting the berries is to place a sheet underneath the tree (many times it looks like a bush if not pruned in its early growing stages). You then shake the tree gently and the berries will fall onto the sheet.  You can then gently make into a pile and collect. 

Mulberries stain sidewalks, hands and fabrics. In other words don't plant them near a pathway you want to keep clean. Don't pick mulberries the day you accept your Emmy at the Oscars and don't use a blanket or sheet that is a family heirloom.

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I have two beautiful mulberries on the property. One has been pruned in the shape of a tree, the other was a massive tree that was cut down and the new growth from the tree stump has created a bush of sorts. The second one is much easier to harvest from. 

Pioneers used to use the dye from the berries in their cloth and yarn. The colour is a deep purple which is extremely difficult to get. I may have to try dying something for fun just to see what happens.

The berries have strong anti-oxidant compounds and are high in various vitamins. When harvesting make sure you gather the purple ones and leave the lighter coloured berries. The unripe berries can have an unpleasant laxative effect if you're not careful.  I wasn't able to harvest enough berries today before the birds got to them so I will be mixing them with blueberries to make some tarts. Hopefully in the next week I'll be able to harvest more and brew a cordial from them. I'll keep you all posted and share my recipes soon!

 
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Witch Hazel is a wonderful native shrub to Ontario that has been used for hundreds of years.  It gets it's name from the Wych Elm tree of England. The name came from the use of it's twigs being used as divining rods. Very witchy indeed. 
I use witch hazel in all of my facial toners which are all free of alcohol which can be very drying to the skin. 

Witch hazel reduces inflammation. You can dab it on your skin directly with a cotton ball or use it in a toner that contains other natural hydrosols depending on your skin type. 

Other uses for witch hazel as a natural remedy is to apply it to diaper rash. 
It helps shrink bags under your eyes. Honestly, it's not an old wives' tale. One of the magical ingredients in products like Preparation H is witch hazel. This helps tighten up the skin and reduce the bagginess. So not only can you use it on your sensitive facial skin but on your butt as well! :) 

It helps soothe poison ivy and poison oak. Witch hazel reduces itching and relieves swelling if you have acne or it can be used on bug bites. Something definitely worth packing on your next camping trip.

If your child comes down with chicken pox you can use the following recipe to help reduce the itching.

Mix together 1 tablespoon honey, 40 drops lavender essential oil, 15 drops lemon essential oil, 15 drops bergamot essential oil, 5 drops peppermint essential oil, 1 teaspoon carrot seed oil and 1/2 cup aloe vera gel.

Once completely mixed, and 1/2 cup distilled witch hazel and mix again. Pour mixture into spray bottle and use on affected areas (avoiding eyes). 

It heals bruises more quickly as well as soothing razor burn. The anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel stop itchy bumps from forming up around irritated hair follicles. Apply before or after shaving..this can apply to guys and gals equally.

You can also treat and soothe a nasty sunburn. Healing damaged skin is one of witch hazel's specialties.  Treating sunburn with witch hazel will lessen healing time and prevent the infamous skin peeling and flaking.

All in all witch hazel is a wonderful plant to have in the garden and if you're not into making your own solution of witch hazel than buying some from a reputable health food store will do just fine!

 
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Lilacs are hands down my favorite Spring flower. It was the flower I wanted to have for my wedding, yet didn't happen as we were married in November. 
As a child I recall our teachers have a desk cluttered with the flowers that all of us seemed to have in our backyards. Wrapping the woody stems in damp paper towel then wrapping the stems with tinfoil. 
These beauties came from my girlfriends home in Faraday. What a gorgeous gift. Every time I walk past them I'm reminded of her generosity as their smell is heavenly. 
The lilac bush growing up in our backyard as children was a light variety with a powerhouse of scent. I remember how when new neighbours moved in, they didn't realize what it was and while my mom was out chopped down over half of the 100 year old 20 foot high lilac bush. We were devastated! 
When driving out in the country on heritage properties, the homes may be crumbling yet you always seem to find  a healthy stand of lilac, as if the trees were comforting the old place. Beside the lilacs you will usually always find a patch of hardy rhubarb as well. 


The fact that the two plants are frequently found together gives us insight into the character of Canadian settlers who valued beauty as much as food. Rhubarb sustained their bodies and the lilacs nourished their souls after the sometimes long and dreary winters.

The sight of a rhubarb shoots poking through the soil must have been welcome after a winter diet of root vegatables and dried fruit. Rhubarb is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The leaves contain oxalic acid, which keeps moose and deer from eating the rhubarb. 

The lilac is one of the longest-lived shrubs. The oldest known in bush in North America is over three hundred years old. In mythology, lilac is the flower of the Goddess Venus which is understandable when you smell the  flowers in  full bloom.


The first shrub I planted in our new home up North was a lilac. I'm impatient as I want it to grow faster than it is! Yet just like pioneers, when circumstances change and it is time to move on to a new location, the person who follows us will have the joy of lilacs (and rhubarb!) to enjoy for many years to come. Both plants will serve you well and seem to thrive on neglect. So plant your lilacs and rhubarb this Spring if you don't have any yet. Nurture you body but your soul as well. 

 
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Now this was a plant that was trying to trick me! I have seen raspberry bushes galore in my time and this plant had no picky thorns and a large leaf that almost resembled a maple leaf. Fine hairs on the leaves actually make it soft. I read somewhere that when out in the bush you can use it as toilet paper! Many First Nations groups harvested Thimbleberries extensively. The leaves were mixed with those of wild strawberry and wild trailing blackberry to make a tea. They also used the soft leaves as padding to line baskets. 

Thimbleberry bushes attract a myriad of wildlife. The flowers are a source of nectar for butterflies, the berries are relished by birds and mammals alike and the dense cover of the large leaves acts to protect animals and birds from predators.

Partridge, cardinals and grosbeaks are just some of the birds that feed on the ripe berries. Competition for the berries is stiff! Bears, coyotes, racoons, squirrels, foxes, opossums and skunks are also very fond of these juicy little treasures.

Then there are the rabbits, porcupines and beavers. Then the deer and moose all feed on the twigs, buds and leaves. It’s a wonder any of these shrubs can survive!


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Thimbleberries can ripen within hours and can go mushy very quickly so they are best used for jams and juicing. Remember to leave some for the critters...but I'm keeping a sharp eye on them so I can snag a few!
To the left is a photo of a ripe thimbleberry. You can see in the far left hand top corner where I removed one of the berries. The middle part of the flower is what fruits. Once it turns that dark red colour you can harvest it although it is a very clumsy experience. It is so delicate that it literally squishes between your fingers. I must have been quite the sight as I licked the mushed berry off my fingers and thumb! It is sweet with a kick of sour at the very end. What a treat it is!

 
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I first used elderberries when I was 19. A group of us were out in the country and there were huge bushes growing along the side of the road. We grabbed bags and filled them full and later used them for apple elderberry pies. You can sometimes buy the berries at local farmers markets yet I have never seen them in a commercial grocery store in my lifetime. The above picture is of our one elderberry bush on the property. This was taken before it bloomed its white flowers. You can use the  creamy white blossom and make it into elder water, a vital cosmetic in the past. Dipped in batter they make an admirable fritter or, depending on culinary preparation, syrup, wine or vinegar. Ointment from the flowers were used for relief from bruises, burns, scalds, ulcers, sores and much more! They have even been used as fabric or hair dye.

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The elderberries I have used in the past were dark purple and I would definitely recommend them over the red variety. The red berries MUST be de-seeded and never use the stems of any variety in syrups, jams or wine as they are toxic. Used for its antioxidant activity, elderberries are known to lower cholesterol, improve vision, boost the immune system, improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections

 In Denmark, country folk held that if you stood under an elder at midnight on Midsummer Eve, you would see the king of the fairies and his court.


The juice and flesh of ripe common elderberries are edible, the stems, leaves, seeds and unripe berries contain unsafe levels of cyanic glucosides. So all elderberries must be cooked before eating. They don’t taste very good raw (they are bitter), so most people would not be tempted anyways.
 
A handful added to an apple pie gives it a lovely color and a piquant flavor. Most people have at least heard of the delights of elderberry wine.

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The juicy black fruit is delicious in pies and puddings or simply as syrup. Preserved it is still capable of yielding excellent jellies, chutney or ketchup. Today I cooked down the red berries (next time I will try and find the purple ones as they do not seem to have the same bitter flavour) and leave the red ones for the birds. I strained the berries through a cheesecloth and used the juice from it and added it to some blueberries, diced apples, lemon and orange juice with some cinnamon plus lots of sugar to make a jam. The end result looks extremely pretty. So find some elderberries and have fun with them!

 
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Back in my hometown of St.Thomas, along the tracks every summer the kids and I would head out to collect wild black raspberries. It's one of the fun natural foraging berry hunting we would do together. 
In coming up to Bancroft one of the first things I did as soon as the snow melted was to look for signs of wild raspberry canes. We have an abundance of them on the property. However I noticedthat some of the canes flowered and others didn't. So being the researcher that I am I found that the ones with the white flowers as shown above are actually wild Blackberries. I'm truly spoiled. Not only do I have wild black raspberries I have blackberries too! Oh the jam and pies  I will be making this summer.

Not only are the good to eat they have many medicinal uses as well. Native Americans would use the root and the black raspberry leaves to relieve stomach problems. There has been over 30 books written with regards to the healing effects of black raspberries and they have been found to protect your DNA structure in order to stop cells from mutating and causing cancer. What a great little plant.
As for raspberries in general, I distinctly remember drinking at least a gallon of raspberry leaf tea to try to induce labour with my oldest boy. I was scheduled to go into the hospital to get induced (which I didn't want as I wanted to go naturally if possible) sand had read somewhere to drink raspberry leaf tea to stimulate the uterus. Well that night I went into labour naturally. Either it was just my time to give birth or it worked!