ELDER FLOWERS, BERRIES

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Elder (Sambucus canadensis), is a large bush or small tree. I forgot the Indian name, could someone please tell me? There is a name for the tree, for the flowers for tea, for the flowers just to cook, and 3 names for the berries. not-ripe, ready (raw) and dried. This tree flowers in July, big bunches of sweetish white flowers. You can easily pick them by the stems of bunches (they make a better tea if taken when fresh, before the berries set).

On the branches, there are usually more leaves -- 6, 8 or 12 -- than the 4 shown in the picture there. I thought surely the names in Indian would come back to me while I was working on this as they did with some of the others, I left it to last except for wintergreen and bearberry I'm still looking for good pix of. But it didn't come back to me.

A large, red elder in full flower, with a small inset of a bunch of flowers. Taken by Michael Moore of Herbal Research Foundation. Big pic, for better identification of leaves and flowers at the herb Foundation's image database.

OK nobody's perfect. At least I still remember how to cook it. The flowers are dried in the shade. After 2 weeks, break and brush them off the stems, then continue drying them until the first frost. Then you can make teas of them. Tea is made of them by pouring 1 quart hot water over 1 cup dried flowers and 2 teaspoons dried mint. Although this is a generally healthful good-tasting tea, OK for men and children (though you would make it weaker then) it has some women's medicine properties I'm not going to go into here. If you use it for that, you should sing or pray when you pick the flowers and in my opinion leave tobacco for the tree. If you are interested in this try to find somebody on your reservation who can show you, and if you learn the names, please email me!

Fresh elder flowers can be fried into breakfast or dessert fritters. Batter:

		1 cup flour
			1 tablespoon sugar
			1 teaspoon baking powder
			2 eggs
			1/2 cup milk
			2 oranges cut in quarters

Heat fat to medium, 375. Remove the coarse stems from flower clusters, but keep the small ones to hold it together. Dip cluster into batter whole, fry for about 4 minutes till golden, squeeze orange juice over them while still hot, roll in granulated white sugar. Keep warm in an oven on paper towels until all are done. Eat them by picking up, discard the "bones" (stems) like chicken es. Kids especially love to do this.

Elder berries fresh are just awful, any way you try to cook fresh berries they're no good. Traditionally, they were dried, (2 weeks in the shade) and I've used some dried ones. They are very good! Sort of between raisins and prunes. If dried, you can soak and cook them with sugar, make pies, etc. Traditionally, dried berries were mixed with deer meet and tallow, they were also used in soups and stews. Elder berries are higher in vitamin C than other high-C fruits such as oranges. They are also a good source of calcium, potassium, and other needed vitamins and minerals. They are really awful-tasting unless the berries are dried. But when they are, they are just about the most nutritious woods fruit there is.

There are various stories about why fresh elder berries taste awful, which maybe I'll tell sometime. It really seems as if almost everyone has forgotten about this tree, and it seems so strange to me I would even forget its name. Here's a couple bits of advice for women: (1) Men and boys shouldn't pick elder flowers, they can pick berries. (2) Elder is women's trees, like wild cherries. Go around among them in spring until you feel attracted to one of them. This is Ogimauikwe, the headwoman tree of the group. Talk to her about what's bothering you. Leave her some tobacco to show respect. When they are blossoming, come back and talk to her again about it. Don't pick anything from that tree. Don't tell men or boys anything about elder flowers as women's medicine. And since they read this too probably I won't say anything more about it. Come to think of it, that's probably why I can't recall its Indian name, because I would just automatically put it here to be complete. If I promise not to write it down can I remember? ... No.



               
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CREDITS: The photos of the elder tree were taken by Michael Moore. Elder flower pannicle and berries scanned from the Colour Herbal by Nicholas Culpepper, 1649. This neat book has stayed in print over 300 years. The latest edition is a large paperback issued by Sterling Publishing of Tornonto, $17.95 (US), $24.95 (Can). Culpepper was an interesting character: an early 17th-century doctor who decided to try to serve the poor instead of getting rich doctoring the rich like others of his class were doing. He prepared his herbal to help country people, who were being forced off their land to the slums of London, so they could recognize herbs that could (in the medical thinking of his day) help them. He used common, not scientific, names to organize the plants, and color paintings to help the people identify them. His advice is nonsense, and the modern herbalist who "updates" it isn't much better in a practical sense. The plants are all British, with only an occasional one like this, the wild rose, that's similar everywhere -- but the book is beautiful and a good read. From it, I finally learned what a Mangel-Wurzel is. I'm not telling! -- ... and, I just tried to look it up again there and couldn't find it. What a mysterious and beautiful book!

Copyright 1995, Paula Giese

Last Updated: Friday, December 29, 1995 - 3:39:08 AM