Summer is slowly turning to autumn. ‘The Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness‘, that Keats wrote about in his poem ‘Ode to Autumn’, is upon us. The morning mist hangs a little longer before the still warm sun burns through and blackberries dot the hedgerows, shining out like little jewels beckoning to be discovered amongst the overgrown brambles and nettles. My heart always soars each year as I see them anew. Treasure! I adore these sweet tasty morsels and the best bit is that they are so abundant and free for all! A real gift from dear Mother Earth.
Last year I went on a great foraging course in early September and learned a lot about why certain foods are so freely available in nature at this time of year. It is not by chance that there is so much goodness in these autumn berries; they are densely packed with the exact nutrients that we, birds and wild animals need to stay healthy in the colder months ahead. These include: rose hips, hawthorn berries, sloes, elderberries and my favourite blackberries 🙂 . Nuts and seeds provide protein and good fats and the wild greens are full of vitamins and minerals. For the purpose of this post, I am sticking with the purple fruits that I am currently foraging.
I am keen to pick as many blackberries as I can in the next couple of weeks as they go over quickly; I have frozen three baking sheets full so far. My children try to help, but really all that happens is they end up with berry stained hands and faces 🙂 but it is still fun to go picking together.
Blackberries freeze wonderfully well and can easily be scooped into storage containers once they are frozen and keep for months – if we are lucky to have that many! We will add them to our porridge and use them to make comforting crumbles as the days get cooler. I am adding the really soft ones to my morning Kefir smoothie for a healthy dose of Vitamins C, E, K, A and B, not to mention all the other additional benefits mentioned here. I try to go out daily to pick them in our locality. We are lucky to live near several parks which are within walking distance. Seeing them never ceases to fill me with childlike wonder. 🙂
Another purple wonder that I make sure I pick at this time of year is elderberries.
They grow in large umbrella shaped clusters. The berries are tiny and are only edible when cooked (although my mother says she used to eat them raw occasionally, but I wouldn’t recommend it). The larger stems are thought to contain large amounts of cyanide, so must be discarded, but I think its o.k to leave little bits of stem in if you are making tinctures and syrups as they will be strained off eventually.
I have been making elderberry tincture and syrups for some years now. It is a wonderful winter tonic and has such amazing anti viral properties, so it would be good to take a tincture all winter long as a preventative – one teaspoonful added to water once a day or three times a day at the first sign of a cold or virus. For our children, we add a teaspoon to boiling water to remove the alcohol and let it cool before drinking.
It is easy to make large quantities of tincture to get us through the winter months. I am planning to make a batch of this simple tincture using the Vodka we bought in France for this purpose – I just need to find enough berries! Many trees in my district seem to have been stripped bare of berries, much to my dismay – the birds must have got there first – but hopefully I will venture a bit further afield later this week and find some more. Fingers crossed!
I am also planning to try this elderberry syrup recipe. I have made it with raw honey before and I recommend you store it in a refrigerator as I have found it turns sour quite easily when just stored in a cool dark cupboard. In the refrigerator it will store over the winter months. The syrup doesn’t last too long here ( because we get through it quickly, it’s so yummy!), so we only use it when any of us are really sick with a cold or virus. We either administer it by spoon three times a day or add a generous teaspoonful to hot water to make a comforting warm drink with honey and lemon. My German grandmother always added elderberries to her ‘Gruetzen’ which are like warming fruit soups and to her homemade fruit juices.
Once you have picked the elderberries, the berries need to be removed from the stalk using a fork in a downward motion. Some folk freeze the berries complete with the stalk and then remove them from the stalk once they are frozen as it is considered easier, but I don’t find it a problem to remove the berries when they are fresh. It’s a bit messy, so make sure you cover your work surface or work over the sink. Once I have removed the berries from the stalk, I wash the berries in a bowl of water and scoop off the berries that are floating on the top ( they are usually not ripe). Then they are ready to work with.
I may get some dried organic elderberries if I don’t manage to source enough in nature to supplement what I am missing as I really do swear by the tincture and syrup. They work wonders and can nip a cold in the bud ( along with olive leaf extract and extra doses of Vit C). Give it a try! Another wonderful free gift from Mother Earth.
And as we are on the topic of purple, I have just started the sleeves of this sweater for my youngest daughter. It is knitting up nice and easily and I love the colour and feel of the yarn, which makes the knit even sweeter.
And to add to the purpleness of it all, the Michaelmas daisies in our garden are all out early this year. 🙂