Elderberries are a delicious and marvelous ingredient from the wild larder. Whether you grow them or find them growing wild in your area, learning to harvest and dry them can be a great idea.
In this guide – we remove all the guesswork and make harvesting and drying elderberries straightforward.
Let’s begin from the top!
- How to Harvest and Dry Elderberries
- How to Harvest Elderberries – Step by Step
- Is It Better to Freeze or Dry Elderberries?
How to Harvest and Dry Elderberries
Here’s how to harvest and dry elderberries the easy way – even if you’re foraging in the middle of nowhere.
- Identify elderberry shrub.
- Cut sprigs with ripe berries attached.
- Remove the berries from their stalks. (Discard unripe elderberries.)
- Wash and dry your berries.
- Choose a drying method: sun drying, oven drying, or using a dehydrator.
- Store dried elderberries in an airtight container. Then put them in a chilled and dark, dry location.
- Use your dried elderberries within around one year.
Elderberries are the perfect forage crop! Their leaves make delicious wine. And – elderberries can help make syrup, jelly, jams, tinctures, pies, juice, and more.
How to Harvest Elderberries – Step by Step
We also want to discuss how to harvest and dry elderberries in more detail.
Here is our easy-to-follow process.
Yummy (and healthy) elderberries await!
How to Identify Elderberry
Elderberries are the berries of the elder trees or shrubs in the Sambucus genus. When talking about elderberries, we usually reference Sambucus nigra, or Sambucus canadensis, though there are other types, such as Sambucus caerulea. The elderberry you find in your area will always depend on your location.
How to Tell When Elderberries are Ripe
Elderberries of Sambucus nigra and Sambucus canadensis are ready to harvest when they are full, glossy, and a dark and purplish-black. It is vital to avoid harvesting or using green (unripe) or shriveled berries. (Blue elderberries turn a lighter blue. And typically have a whitish bloom when they are ready to harvest.)
Can You Harvest Unripe Elderberries?
No! Our homesteading friends always ask why they should harvest ripe elderberries – and discard the unripe elderberries. The answer is because ripe elderberries have fewer cyanogenic glycosides, the toxin in elderberries. Cook your elderberries – even ripe elderberries! Drying or cooking elderberries make them increasingly edible.
Cutting Sprigs of Berries
You can effortlessly pull the large clusters of ripe berries off the plants. However, it is easier to cut them off using a pair of secateurs.
(Even though homesteading is tough these days – we think the birds and native wildlife need the berries more than you do. Share! If you can.)
Sambucus canadensis 'Adams' is hardy in zones 3-9 and grows 6-10' tall. It flowers in mid-summer with gorgeous white blooms and dark blue fruits.
These fruits can be used to make jelly, elderberry syrup, jam, or any other recipe you'd like to create.
This plant is shipped with pot through USPS Priority Mail.
Preparing Elderberries for Drying
Removing the elderberries from their stalks can be time-consuming. To speed up this process, you can remove the berries from the stems using a kitchen fork.
Once you have separated the elderberries from the stems – place them in a colander. Wash them thoroughly under running water. Make sure that you remove all stem fragments, foliage, and unripe or damaged berries as you do so.
How to Dry Elderberries
Once you have harvested and prepared your elderberries, you have options for using them. Fresh elderberries cannot get eaten raw, but you can use them in many different ways.
You can use them in herbal remedies, pies, tinctures, syrup, and other recipes. You can also use them for jams or other preserves. Or even to make elderberry wine.
However, you may find that you do not have the time to undertake such a project right away. In which case, you may like to find a way to keep elderberries for later.
You can preserve your elderberries in two main ways – freezing or drying. You can also help maintain your elderberries by canning them. But canning takes more time and work.
Is It Better to Freeze or Dry Elderberries?
Freezing elderberries will be the best way to conserve their beneficial health properties and the nutrients they contain.
But in some cases, you may have limited freezer space. Drying the berries will alter their properties – but dried berries can still be tremendously beneficial and healthy victuals to have around. Drying elderberries allows you to preserve them. Perhaps even without using electric power.
If you decide that you would like to dry your elderberries, there are three main methods between which you can choose.
- Air Drying / Sun Drying
- Oven / Stove Drying
- Drying Elderberries with a Dehydrator
Let’s also analyze the pros and cons of drying elderberries via stove, air drying, and dehydrators.
Can You Air Dry Elderberries?
We don’t recommend it – but some homesteaders and farmers do so anyway! The problem is that the elderberries expire and spoil quickly. Drying elderberries with 100% accuracy is tricky unless you use a dehydrator or oven.
So – whether or not you can air dry elderberries will depend on where you live. In more humid climates, air drying will not usually happen quickly enough to prevent spoilage. While in drier and warmer zones, air drying them is a possibility.
How to Dry Elderberries In the Sun
If your homestead resides in a sunny and relatively dry climate? Then sun-drying elderberries will be simple. You can effortlessly spread the berries on a fine mesh rack in a bright and sunny spot.
It is critical to ensure there is efficient airflow. Also – spread the berries out well!
To speed up the process and stand a better chance of success? We recommend covering the berries with a cloche, glass, or plastic cover. Using a cloche or plastic cover increases the temperatures and provides some protection from opportunistic birds. It also allows for adequate sunlight transmission.
You can also improve the chances of drying elderberries successfully. Dry them more quickly by making a solar dehydrator.
How to Dry Elderberries in Your Oven
Another way to dry elderberries (even when the sun doesn’t shine) is to dry them in an oven or stove.
This method will take around 12 to 24 hours. (The time depends upon the temperature and the airflow.)
- Spread out the elderberries on a lined baking sheet.
- Set the oven to around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Any higher, and the fruit will cook rather than dry.
- Every few hours, check the berries and rotate the tray for more even drying.
- Once the berries get shriveled and firm to the touch? Remove them from the oven. Afterward, store them in an airtight container.
- Don’t forget to crack your oven door a few inches to help circulation.
We also read an excellent elderberry growing guide that cites your dry berries should weigh approximately 25% of the wet berries.
In other words – if you start with 40 pounds of fresh elderberries, your dry elderberries should weigh 10 pounds. That’s a helpful rule of thumb to consider.
How to Dry Elderberries With a Dehydrator
To dry elderberries, you might also use an electric dehydrator (like the Excalibur). Dehydrators are far more precise than air drying. And they’re more energy-efficient than an oven. They’re the best way to dry elderberries!
- Spread out the elderberries evenly on a tray of your dehydrator.
- Set the temperature on the dehydrator to 135 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Set the timer for around 8 to 12 hours, and keep your eyes on them. If the berries are not completely dried, add additional time if required.
Follow the instructions of your dehydrator! Dehydrators dry elderberries at different rates. The air circulation and temperatures make a vital difference – so follow the guidance of the model you use.
How to Store Elderberries You Have Dried
Dried elderberries should be moved immediately to airtight jars or other sealed containers. These should get placed out of direct sunlight, in a cool and dry location.
How Long will Dried Elderberries Last?
When dried and stored correctly, dried elderberries should last for around one year. We suggest placing them in a cool dark place in your cubby or cabinet. We love using mason jars to store them long-term to help keep mice and pests out! (Mason jars are our favorite mouse-proof storage.)
How to Use Dried Elderberries
Dried elderberries can get used for making healthy teas and tinctures or added to a range of recipes. You can also rehydrate dried berries by soaking them overnight in cold water in your refrigerator. They can then be juiced or mashed and used more or less as you would use fresh elderberries.
Drying berries and storing them for later use means you can make the most of this healthy ingredient all year round. No more flavorless bland winters. Sounds good!
Elderberries are a delicious superfood that many homesteaders and foragers love! They have excellent health benefits and pack loads of fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A and C.
There are a ton of rumors about elderberries. Some say they’re dangerous to eat. The bottom line is that elderberries are perfectly edible. But – you need to cook or dry them first! So – remember to cook elderberries before eating!
If you follow those rules and the elderberry harvesting tips in this guide? Then harvesting and drying elderberries is fruitful, worthwhile, healthy, and delicious.
Until that time? Let us know if you have questions about harvesting and enjoying elderberries.
(We know they are a confusing crop at first. But – they’re yummy and healthy!)
Thanks again for reading.
Have a great day!
We love this organic elderberry syrup! Add a splash to your next glass of milk. Or, add it to muffins, cookies, and baked goodies. You can also add a splash to your next batch of blueberry waffles. Don't forget to add a tiny serving of butter for the best flavor possible.