Rethinking Elderberry Tincture
(The Tincture-Berry Concept)

Dateline: 25 January 2016 AD

Alcohol-soaked elderberries

I've written here in the past about my desire to grow medicinal elderberry cultivars and make elderberry tincture for my family. The journey started back in the spring of 2014 when I planted four seedlings on the edge of my garden, and it has come to reality this winter with three quarts of alcohol-soaked elderberries, like you see in the picture above.

The usual procedure when making tincture is to drain off the infused alcohol after a few months in the jar. Then to squeeze out the berries to get every last possible drop of the valuable tincture. I did that with the quart jar of Brandy-infused berries I made last August...

A dropper bottle of elderberry tincture in January. Notice the pruned and stake-tied elderberry bushes in the background.

It's nice to have little dropper bottles of tincture like that.  BUT squeezing tincture out of the berries is a messy job, and it occurred to me that I was doing something that isn't really necessary. Here's what I mean...

The half-gallon jar of Everclear-infused berries I made last August is now setting on our kitchen counter. On top of the lid is a bottle dropper. When we feel like we need a little tincture (like, after a sneeze or upon feeling like our cold-resistance is low), we simply open the jar and get some tincture with the dropper. 

As we have done this, the liquid level in the jar has dropped below the berry level. Seeing that, I got the obvious idea of just eating a partial spoonful of the berries. Why not? They're full of tincture and full of berry. Except for an occasional bit of berry stem, it's ALL good.

So now I'm thinking that there is no good reason to squeeze out the berries just to get liquid. Why can't I put berries and tincture juice together into smaller jars with an opening large enough to fit a spoon into? I'm envisioning 4oz canning jars, Like This....



If you missed my past blog posts on growing elderberries and making tincture, here are some pictures...









33 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought this was banned in NY?....

Herrick Kimball said...

Well, I wouldn't be surprised.

NY isn't exactly a state where personal freedoms are cherished and protected.

It's hard to keep up with all the abuses of government tyranny these days.


Anonymous said...

As long as the seeds aren't poisonous and leaching something into the syrup , it seems to make good sense. I think if they WERE poisonous you would know that by now...such as cyanide ( I think?) in apple seeds . Karen from Michigan

Herrick Kimball said...

I don't know about cyanide in the seeds. They are small and kind of crunchy. I discovered that the berries, if chewed for awhile, will stain my teeth purple. So I don't chew them as much as I once did. :-)

Pam Baker said...

How coincidental. I wild foraged elderberries this summer and made 1 1/2 quarts of tincture. I also have a gallon freezer bag...in the freezer.
I thought you were going to recommend the WB Cider Press to express the berries. What do you think of that idea...providing you had the volume.
Pam

An At Home Daughter said...

The seeds are not poisonous. People make elderberry pie. So if that were the case they would all be dead. The plant itself is poisonous, stems and leaves. I find a spaetzle maker lined with a coffee filter works great for straining/pressing tinctures, but I have never made elderberry tincture. Still waiting for our plants to produce a good crop of berries.
Kimberly

RonC said...

I have 3/4 of a dishpan full of elderberries in the freezer at the farm. I was going to make a tincture, but never screwed up the courage to stop by the liquor store. I've never been in one and would feel pretty awkward in one. Anyhow, I grab what berries I can pinch between the thumb and the first two fingers when I feel a cold coming on. Have to warm them up in the mouth for a bit. I suck the juice out of them and then chew them up a bit and then usually spit out what I don't want to swallow. They are bland, but seem to be VERY effective. I have escaped the last two colds that the rest of the family has suffered through. Three doses over three days is usually enough.

I did bring some home to the wife and kiddos, but they think they are gross. I'll probably make an elderberry syrup with them.

RonC

Anonymous said...

I haven't grown or foraged elderberries but they must be legal because I buy the syrup (Sambuccus) at Amazon and local health food stores here in VA.
It is very protective against colds, flu, etc. but doesn't seem to have much effect on stomach bugs.

Anonymous said...

So glad you made tincture. I assumed the person was talking about Everclear being illegal. It is in some states. Also want to point out that elder flowers are very beneficial. Dry them and use as tea.

Anonymous said...

I use the Mountain Rose Herbs Elderberry Recipe. I have never used alcohol for my recipes. I also never use honey since it is so expensive for the good stuff. It is metallic tasting but nothing a person cant get past. We currently have the crude and my elderberry "syrup" has eased our illness. Honestly, I just take a big swallow every few hours. I believe it has helped immensely.

I am considering if one can just swallow a few berries without much chewing. I am all for using the herb to the fullest ability. Waste not, want not.

Ouida Gabriel

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Pam—
I'm not sure how the WB press would work for elderberries. I tried pressing grapes once by running them through the WB disposal-grinder first. It all worked but was a huge purple slurry of a mess. Pressing the slurry was kind of redundant. Then it had to be heated up for canning and filtered and that was a mess. So we decided that using our Mehu-Liisa was far easier. And it is. Pressing juicy berries without grinding might be the way to go but I haven't tried that yet.


Herrick Kimball said...

An At Home Daughter—

Why didn't I think of pie? Your critical thinking skills are far better than mine when it comes to the matter of elderberry seed safety.

Elderberry pie is, in my opinion, the best way to eat elderberries. With some vanilla ice cream.

I never had an elderberry pie until I met Marlene in high school. She grew up gathering wild elderberries in season and making pie. A girl who could make elderberry pie was a powerful attraction to me back then. :-)

Herrick Kimball said...

Ron C—

Frozen elderberries instead of tincture makes perfect sense to me. The alcohol is just a way of extracting and preserving what's in the berries. So why not frozen berries instead of tincture? This may well be another good example of critical thinking.

Could it be that tinctures were developed before electricity and refrigeration, as a way to preserve the goodness of the berries? I think so. As long as the electricity is working, freezing makes perfect sense.

The exception would be if you are away from home. There is a convenience factor to consider with a small bottle of tincture.

And if you have an excess of frozen berries.... there is pie!

Back when my stepfather was alive and well, he would go to the liquor store for us to get tincture alcohol (vodka). And when we needed beer for getting slugs in the garden, we had him get it for us (beer for slugs was something we tried for awhile). That gives you an idea how uncomfortable we were at buying alcohol. So I can relate to your comment.

I bought the Everclear and a bottle of brandy last summer at a liquor store in the city as opposed to the local establishment. I don't want any locals to get the wrong idea about me. And I was totally out of my element. I went there for Vodka but when I mentioned to the clerk that I was making an herbal tincture, he suggested the Everclear. I had read something online about using Everclear so I got that. Same with the brandy—I read somewhere online that it made a "smoother" tincture.

The drawback to making tincture with alcohol is that the alcohol is downright expensive. The bottle of Everclear was around $40. I think it was a gallon. Still have half of it left. I guess it never goes bad. 95% grain alcohol. The label says: CAUTION! EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE.


Herrick Kimball said...

Anonymous—

I've made wild elderberry flower tea and tincture in years past. The dried flower clusters are beautiful. For some reason we didn't make good use of either. Will have to try it again.

Herrick Kimball said...

Ouida—

I bought vegetable glycerine for making tincture but haven't used it. Marlene made some elderberry syrup with honey last fall. Sweet and good. You need your own honeybees to be able to afford making much of that.

I don't know what "crude" is, but I hope I never get it. :-(

Hope you all feel better soon.

julie said...

The cultivar you grew has such large berries and bright red stems that at first glance, it looked like pokeweed. I know it's not, and I know you are well-versed in any foraging you do, but just throwing it out there in case some readers haven't foraged for elderberry before. Poke berries are poisonous, but once you research the stem & leaf, they are very easy to tell apart form elderberries.

P.S. Koger said...

I have made the tincture in the past,but was leery of the little stems attached to the berry. Research said stems are poisonous. Big stems or little ones??? They were like hairs and I did not get them all off, worked for hours. (We are still alive) My Dad made jelly out of the elderberries, wonderful stuff!
Hillbillies have a press made from two boards hinged/wired together on one end. You put your bag of fruit between the planks and use the "handle" ends to apply pressure, works like a charm.

An At Home Daughter said...

For the people talking about them being illegal. I think they were thinking of the Ribes family of berries. Gooseberries and currants and such. They are illegal to grow in some areas. In some states you cannot grow them for so many miles from any 3 needle pines if I remember right. They say they complete the life cycle of something (can't remember what. Maybe a fungus) that kills the 3 needle pine.
Kimberly

Elizabeth L. Johnson said...

As usual, a wealth of knowledge from you and your readers.

Herrick Kimball said...

Julie,

Good point about pokeweed berries.

I can't think of pokeweed without thinking of Tony Joe White's classic "Poke Salad Annie." Poke Salad Annie

Evidently, poke is edible at a young age?

Also, I learned last summer that poke berries were once known as ink berries. Some people believe the Declaration of Independence was written with pokeberry ink. But others say it had to be iron gall ink, because it was more permanent. In any event, here's an interesting discussion about both inks... Making Poke Berry Ink



Herrick Kimball said...

PS—
I think the little stems are more of an annoyance than a health threat. And I like hillbilly solutions like that.

AAHDaughter—
I think you are correct about the Ribes. But I'm pretty sure that gooseberries and currants are now legal in NY state. I saw a whole display promoting the culture of black currants at a NY farm show a couple years ago. I want to plant some.

As for gooseberries, I've never eaten one. Or, at least I used to think I had never eaten one. Then a friend of mine asked if I ever had canned "fruit cocktail" from the store. My mother used to buy that so I have, and he told me the green berries in fruit cocktail are gooseberries. I don't know if supermarket fruit cocktail still has gooseberries or not.

I should plant a gooseberry bush too.

Life is short, and the plants to grow, so many.

An At Home Daughter said...

I tried growing some Pixwell gooseberries. They aren't supposed to even live in our climate. I got them to grow and after 3 years of growth they flowered, but produced no fruit, so I gave them away. They need snow in the winter and we don't get any. I got the plants from http://www.alcasoft.com/winfrey/
I always loved those "grapes" in the fruit cocktail as a kid. I saved them for last. I thought they seemed different from regular grapes.
Kimberly

Anonymous said...

I have never had elderberry pie , I have eaten a few raw as I walk along in the woods , but they had a hmmm almost mildewy musky astringent taste ...maybe not completely ripe. Karen from Michigan

Nick L said...

A thought about the alcohol. I had always heard the old timers say that alcohol in medicines help the body absorb the medicine better (faster?). Alcohol is also a solvent it could help draw something out of the berry. If I assume that both of these is true it would seem to me you could compensate for this by just eating more berries. But I am not a chemist and I may be over oversimplifying this. I am fighting a bit of a cold myself and a piece of elderberry pie with some frozen yogurt (for the calcium of course) sounds good to me. Does the crust count as a serving of whole grains?

Nick L

P.S. Koger said...

Young Pokeweed is very edible....I'm living proof. In fact I have canned the young leaves up. I don't know about the north east but there is an abundance of it here. No cost, no cultivation just go out and gather all you want. Some folks eat the leaves and others eat the stalks. I favor the leaves and take the stalks to hubbys 82 year old auntie...win-win.

Elizabeth L. Johnson said...

P.S. Koger mentioned folks eating leaves. I recalled D. C. Jarvis' book on Vermont, 'Folk Medicine', with several mentions how people ate beechnut-tree leaves, maple-tree leaves, elm-tree leaves, willow-tree leaves, chokecherry-tree leaves, poplar-tree leaves, birch-tree leaves, raspberry bush leaves, marsh marigold, fern tops, horseradish leaves, dandelions, dock, yellow rocket cress, and watercress. "Native Vermonters have been aware for generations of the value and flavor of the tender leaves of plants that grow wild in the woods." p 55. I didn't know people still did this!

Anonymous said...

Gooseberries were illegal to plant at one time because they were blamed for spreading a disease to trees. That's not the case now. Alcohol pulls the properties from the material you are making the tincture from and then preserves it. The more alcohol and the less water the longer it keeps. It will last for many years.

Anonymous said...

UPDATE: Made a call, it is legal now in NY to sell, used to be not though...

jeff said...

An easy way of removing the berries from stems is to put the flower head in the freezer long enough for them not to squish when you pull them off. I use 90 to 100 proof vodka for my self but don't know what I would do if I had young ones in the house. Love your blog, such an inspiration.

The Baldwin Gang said...

We make both a tincture, and a syrup. We have to travel out of state to get the "high test" everclear, so sometimes we settle for the 160 proof stuff. Apparently college students were drinking the 190 proof stuff (GAG!) and getting sick/dead; so the wise government people decided to make it illegal here. But we can still travel to SC and buy it at the border store.
We make the syrup with honey we "glean" (https://thebaldwingang.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/lights-and-sweets-from-scraps-and-bits/) from the cappings of a local beekeeper. Then we strain the berries out from the syrup and put them in muffins - Tasty!
A quick way to separate the berries from the stems is with a fork. Run the fork thru the stems where the berries are attached and they should pop right off.

Everett R Littlefield said...

Hi Herrick Just went looking for some elderberry bushes to buy and the only place I could find them was Henry Fields catalog. After I finished reading your whole post and all the answers again, I thought I would order 3-4 Gooseberry, and black Currants. Turns out I cannot get them in this State unless I have a permit from the Department of Environmental Management. Well that is the end of that because the minute they see my name on the request it will be an automatic denial. I have been in a contested lawsuit with them for the last 26 years. They have been telling me not to mow or plant anything in my west field because it is an emergent river bank! It is a drainage ditch that dries up in April or May and stays that way till late Nov/Dec. This whole department is run by a bunch of unelected bureaucrats who make up any damed rules they want and then try to extort money out of you to make it all go away. Well I told them I would fight this all the way through the State Supreme court, and have been to court half a dozen times,but the players keep changing, and every time we almost have an agreement, they change one or two things that they know I won't go along with. We are infested with crooks in this State in every single department of of government! I'm about $15 K into this but I will not give up my land rights till I am dead, and then my middle son Russell all carry on the fight till he is done! We got a new judge the last time at court and he appears to be an honest one. He even asked the DEM lawyer why the hell they were torturing these people over such a small and ridiculous suite. I happened to be looking at the two others at their table when one said to the other,under his breath, "because we can". I know what he said because I have been reading lips for the last 18-20 years because I am almost deaf. I told my lawyer what they just said to each other and he took it from there with the Judge and their lawyer. I think this thing will soon be coming to a resolution, at least I hope so! So no gooseberries or currants for me for a while anyway. Sorry about being so wordy! Best Everett

Herrick Kimball said...

Everett—

Wow. That's quite a story. I admire you for standing up to the bureaucrat bullies. This sort of thing is happening all over the country in one form or another. I hope it is resolved in your favor soon! Did you check Nourse Farms for the elderberries? That's where I got mine.

Unknown said...

I finally processed my elderberries along these lines:

http://104homestead.com/how-to-make-elderberry-syrup/

I put the elderberry juice in the refrigerator and mix in the raw honey as I use the juice. I doubt it will last long as the whole family is using it now. Seems to be very effective. This is going to be a late Fall project from now on.

RonC