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Harvesting wild elderberries

The final product!
Alicia Bayer

Yesterday I wrote about how to identify wild elderberries, one of nature's best immune system boosters. Picking the berries and stripping them from the stems are jobs for the whole family, and children enjoy helping.

Once you've filled your foraging basket with the berry clusters and brought them home, it's time to begin.

Note: This is part of a series of Elderberry articles I've written.. The others are Finding the elusive elderberry and 11 Must-try ways to preserve elderberries.

Ripe elderberries
Ripe elderberries Morguefile

Ripe elderberries

When the berries are fully ripe (dark purple and plump), pick them and bring them home. As always when foraging, make sure you're positive of your identification.

Elderberries in the basket
Elderberries in the basket Alicia Bayer

Elderberries in the basket

Your foraging baskets will fill up quickly, but most of the "fill" is stems and air. Don't push it down to pack it -- you'll break stems and smash berries, leading to a lot of clean up time later.

Separating the berries from the stem
Separating the berries from the stem Alicia Bayer

Separating the berries from the stem

Stripping the berries from the stem is easy as long as you have the secret utensil: a fork. The tines are the perfect distance apart. Simply start at the bottom of the cluster and lightly pull the fork towards the ends, dropping the berries into a bowl.

Avoid and small, green berries. They will make you sick if you eat them.

Helping my helper
Helping my helper Alicia Bayer

Helping my helper

Sometimes your helpers may need a little help stripping the berries. If it's done too hard, the berries may rupture or larger pieces of stem will be collected (and will have to be removed later). Don't be afraid to help out.

The final product!
The final product! Alicia Bayer

The final product!

A beautiful jar of elderberries, ready for use. They make a delicious pie, syrup, or immune system booster, and can be preserved by freezing them, drying them in an oven or in the air, by juicing and canning then, or by making an elderberry-honey syrup.

Note: Preserving them for later may be the better option. Wildman Steve Brill says:

"Even raw ripe elderberries make some people nauseous. Cooking or drying dispels the offending substance, and greatly improves the flavor."

Want to learn more about Cooking with Kids? Be sure to subscribe to my column to be notified when I publish a new article. And don't forget to check out my Urban Foraging column!