Mind your elders

Mind your elders

Barbara Kolander makes good use of fruit from native elder trees

By Christopher Nyerges 10/14/2010

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Everyone has heard of elderberry wine, even if they haven’t the slightest idea how to recognize the tree. But wine is just one of many healthful products that are available from the elder. Those same ripe fruits used for wine can also be dried like raisins, or cooked and made into jams and jellies, or even made into a uniquely-flavored cold drink.

The native elder trees, which are found in local chaparral and high in the mountains, with fruit that largely goes unused year after year, also are easy to grow in your own backyard.

I recently met with Lake Arrowhead’s Barbara Kolander, who teaches classes in wild food cookery and whose kitchen was full of all the wild elderberries that she and her daughter had collected.
Why elder? I asked.

“First, it’s extremely healthy for you,” she told me. “The sambuca is a beverage that has been made for a long time by Native Americans for health, and it strengthens your immune system. You can buy elderberry cough syrup and other products that boost the immune system, and help fight flu and colds. But you can also just make your own,” she tells me.

Kolander harvests the ripe berries generally from August through October. She points out that the seasons always vary somewhat. She then removes all the small fruits from the stems, puts them into a colander and rinses with water. Next, she covers the fruit in purified water and then cooks the berries — bringing the water almost to boil — then turns off the heat and lets the fruit soak.

Since some people get sick by eating a sufficient amount of the raw fruit, it is always important to cook the berries before they are processed into any food item.

“If I’m going to make wine,” says Kolander, “I first press the juice from the berries. But I use them in many different recipes. I might add the berries to pancakes. Sometimes I make a cordial, which is a sweet drink that everyone loves. Generally, I experiment with the elder fruit and I make all sorts of juices, jams, syrups and even dried like raisins. You can even use the fresh flowers or berry clusters, dipped in batter, for fritters,” Kolander says while holding up a large drooping branch containing ripe elder fruit.

An old-fashioned flu remedy is infused with elder flowers. This is said to be quite effective, and it has been a popular spring tea for generations. It is still popular in places like Appalachia and wherever herbal traditions have been kept alive. People would collect the elder flowers in the spring, dry them, then save them in bottles for use throughout the year, when the flowers might not be available.

Kolander has been teaching for 15 years and is particularly interested in the canning of elder and other wild foods, having a long-time interest in nutrition and natural alternatives
to healing. “I enjoy cooking with local foods,” she explains, “and the elder is very healthful and medicinal.”

In her classes, she encourages students to see the wild plants as not only useful foods but also practical alternatives to some of the drugs and medicines that most people take for granted.

Kolander also emphasizes the medicinal value of various wild plants. Her classes, in which she teaches wild-food cooking, outdoor survival skills, home canning and food storage and other self-reliance skills, are held year-round.

Having raised six children, Kolander notes that not all her kids have shared her intense interest in wild foods. “But I still like to expose them to these practical survival skills,” she explains, “because, as they mature, they will remember more than you think, and eventually they will see the value of knowing these skills.”

Kolander can be reached at (909) 337-1481 or wildmtnwoman@hotmail.com
Christopher Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” “Enter the Forest,” “How to Survive Anywhere” and “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills.” He has been leading wild food outings since 1974. A schedule of his classes is available from the School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, Calif., 90041, or online at christophernyerges.com.

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