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My Elderberries Taste Awful! Am I Going To Poison Myself?


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#1 KYWeaver

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 07:22 PM

I picked and froze twenty pounds of elderberries from some bushes I found. The bushes and berries looked like every picture and description of elderberries I have seen.
But I juiced some for jelly and they taste terrible.
Did I:
a) Pick some poisonous berry that looks just like elderberries? The plants match every photo and the berries looked and acted like every picture and description.
B) Leave too many stems in? I removed all major stems. The only ones left were tiny, like the size of an eyelash.
c) Get some bad tasting elderberries? They were wild.

The juice is very dark reddish purple, almost opaque. There is a fruity flavor, similar to black currants, but it has a horrible medicinal bitterness. I drank a sip, then sweetened it, and tried it again. No improvement. Is this how elderberries taste? Or should I throw it all out?

#2 lawpaw

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 08:07 PM

Did you cook it? Raw elderberries taste horrible. I hear raw elderberries aren't so bad post-fermentation and aging, but raw they don't taste good no matter how much you sweeten (IMHO).

I make elderberry and mulberry syrup (in addition to wine). I think they both have a similar earthy flavor when the elderberries are cooked.

I've actually acquired a little bit of a taste for raw elderberries since I pick and eat them at times when jogging, but it is certainly an acquired taste raw.

#3 KYWeaver

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 08:31 PM

Yeah, I cooked the whole berries for 10 minutes, then strained through a jelly bag and squeezed lightly. There is a musty, musky, earthy, fruity taste, but it's interrupted by a quinine-like bitterness that sticks to the mouth and lips. I sweetened some with 50% sugar by volume and the bitterness is still prominent.
I'm still alive two hours later. But as it is, the juice is unpalatable.
I don't want to make anyone sick, and I don't want to make crappy jelly and wine.

#4 winewit

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Posted 04 October 2011 - 09:14 PM

I'm have a batch of dried elderberry wine going on now, about 6 months old. It is a strong, opaque and very tannic wine, but taste like its got a great future. But mine has a "brick red" color not purple-red at all. If I rememeber correctly, it is the Red American Elderberry that is possionious. You might want to exercise caution, and research the Elderberry varites that are possionus. Good luck.

#5 WVMountaineerJack

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 12:50 AM

Without a picture how can we be sure you got elderberries? Not many people think they taste good raw, but cooked and sweetened there shouldnt be a quionine taste, never heard that one before. Some people pick pokeberries thinking they are elderberries and I have even seen them pick dogwood berries thinking they were elderberries. If they are elders then dont throw it out, ferment it out and give it a chance to set in a carboy for a while.

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#6 bzac

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 01:08 AM

my grandad used to make elderberry wine , its so tannic he'd let it age for 10 years or use a small amount of it to blend into thin wines ie 4% elder berry in a blueberry wine.
the sharpness of it is why its more commonly used as a blender or made into a port than a strait wine.

 

#7 Green Zeus

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 06:08 AM

Zac---then you never had CrackedCork's elderberry wine. There's not a finer drink on the face of the earth than his oaked elderberry.

#8 dagobob

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 06:24 AM

My family and I consider my elderberry wine; the best wine I make; its really, really good. I use about 3.5 pounds per gallon and it takes about 2 years until it comes around. I backsweeten it a bit as well. Previously I made it from wild elderberries, which of course were a mix of unknown varieties, but since then, I've planted my own from popular varieties such as York, Scotia, Harschberg, etc, and the one thing that I noticed for sure is the distinct differences amongst these cultivated elders. Some are really tasty; others, like Harschberg are really musty/earthy tasting.

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#9 lawpaw

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 08:50 AM

I like the earthier flavored elderberries. I also love tannic wines. I could see the juice being unpalatable to some, even 50/50 jam.

I find that you really need to let it simmer about 30 minutes to let the sweetness out. At that point my elderberry and mulberry syrups taste very similar, but I leave the stems on my mulberries so they are more tannic than usual.

#10 Iowa Guy

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 03:18 PM

As long as you're sure you picked elderberries, they will be just fine for winemaking.

My family likes my elderberry wine the best of the dozen or so country wines that I make. It is a Chianti-style, medium-bodied wine at 4 pounds berries/gallon and oak cubes. Age 2 years. Then it smooths out.

You don't have to worry about the stems, except for the more stems the more green goo. A commercial winery nearby throws the panicles in a big primary, large stems and all. And their elderberry wine is very good. I personally sort out the very large stems, but I don't mess with trying to remove all the smaller stems.

The "bitterness" that you taste is what makes it a good dry wine - tannins. Just follow a standard recipe, don't be afraid to add up to 5 pounds/gallon (I personally like 4 lbs/gallon, most recipes call for 3 but are too light-bodied IMHO). I don't personally cook mine, I just ferment them after freezing to help rupture the cell walls and release more juice. They don't need cooked if you don't want to mess with that in the future.

But do double-check that they are truly elderberries if it's a new berry for you. If you can post a photo of the bush & berries we can let you know for sure...

#11 deb_rn

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 04:01 PM

I don't care for them raw. Even syrup is better with some red raspberries added. It has great medicinal properties and that is what I use it for... with plenty of honey. I don't even care for sweetened juice. After it's made, I love it... sweetened a bit. It is great to blend with other wines. It makes great skeeter pee and I make a "seconds" with honey that is great! We love elderberry wine... just not the elderberries! I made muffins and didn't care for them either.

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#12 KYWeaver

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 04:16 PM

I didn't take pictures of the bushes, but I know definitely what pokeberries and dogwood are and this was not either. It had the correct leaf shape, the right growth habit and size, and the very typical berry clusters. So unless there is a plant that is almost identical to elderberries, it should be elderberries. I guess that is what I am asking.
Could cooking the berries with the small stems have leached out enough toxins to make the juice dangerous? Am I risking a little stomach upset or a trip to the hospital?

#13 saramc

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 07:21 PM

Have you tasted your elderberry jelly? What ratio elderberry to gallon wine did you use? I know many winemakers who opt to use a steam juicer when working with the elderberry. I have not had the pleasure of locating any fresh elderberries near me, it seems all patches have been sprayed and destroyed. But, I know what part of the state you are in and you have access to a lot more "green" then I do! Alas, perhaps my elderberry sticks that I planted this Spring will bear fruit for me in 2012.

@DebRN: I spiked my elderberry syrup (made from dried berries) with homemade dark chocolate syrup, works wonderfully as a cough syrup. It's the combination of the medicinal qualities of the elderberry and the theobromide from the chocolate! I know Village Winery in Virginia makes a Elderberry & Chocolate Syrup that CrackedCork raves about.

Please keep us posted with your elderberry adventure.
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#14 WVMountaineerJack

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 01:55 AM

On winery near us sells a chocolate elderberry syrup, it will put you in a coma slurping it down straightup! KY nobody can help you ID without a picture, if you are sure its elderberry then be happy, if you are not sure then you are always going to be concerned and wont enjoy it. We have made it just about every way, dried, cooked, raw, steamed, pressed, 100% juice, they are all good. If high tannins are not the thing for you just do like the grape guys do, pull the fruit out earlier, we sometimes crush the berries, put on enzymes and KMeta and squeeze out the juiice the next day and go from there. If you let the berries set in the primary for a week its going to have a lot more tannins and take longer to age - probably, depending on your berries. It seems wild vs grown in the back yard might have some differences.

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#15 KYWeaver

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 04:25 PM

Well, thanks for all your help. Since there don't seem to be any dangerous lookalikes, I think I am just worrying over nothing.
I'm going to skip making the jelly and just use it all for wine. I think the flavor will more agreeable.

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