The Celtic Ozark Elderberry

The celtic Ozark elderberry has a long and happy history with the Celtic people of Missouri and Arkansas. It has been used through the years for medicine and alcoholic beverages for some time.

The black elderberry has a history that dates back to the Egypt.  The most popular historical material, though, traces the use of the berry to Hippocrates, who used the plant quite extensively for medicine. To my last count, the black elderberry has been used to treat about 70 different ailments, including colds, flu, fever, burns, and cuts.

Part of the joy I get from gardening is from the rich array of fantastical belief & legend that surrounds plants. When the weather is too nasty to garden, or it’s too late in the day, reading about the history & mythology of things growing in our yards extends the garden’s impact not only on the senses, but on the intellect & the imagination.

Apart from the obvious uses of the berry, there is also quite a bit of mythology that surrounds the elderberry plant. The Celtic Nations would have been familiar with the Saxon legends that surrounded the Elderberry, for it was sacred in Saxony. It could not be cut down unless propitiated.  A goddess was associated with the plant, namely Dame Ellhorn.  The western Europeans also believed that the god Pushkait lived under elderberry plants, so the people used to bring offerings of bread and beer to the places where the plant grew. The Scandanavians also had there sacred myths about “Lady Elder.” As the Vikings raded northern Ireland and Scotland, the Celtic people became aware of the stories there too.

In the Celtic Ozarks, the plant has been used for years to make wine.  And it is too that end that most people who live in the Ozarks know the plant. So, I want to share a recipe with you all on how to make Elderberry Wine, Celtic Ozark style:

5 lbs elderberries, stripped from their stems (If you wash them, make sure you use them right away)
1 gallon boiling water
3 lbs granulated sugar
1 wine yeast packet
1 cup chopped raisins (I like to use white raisins for a different taste)
½ cup lemon juice
The zest of one orange (for the flavor and aroma. I use this a lot with beer also)
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient

Place elderberries into a large plastic fermentation bucket (I have a 7 gallon plastic beer bucket I use just for wine and meade). Add  the white raisins, lemon and orange zest, and 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient. Pour boiling water into container and stir. When cool, press the mixture to release juices. Let sit for 24 hours.  This will allow your mix to develop and age.

At the 24 hour mark, Add 2 lbs sugar and the wine yeast packet. Stir and cover. Place a fermentation lock into the mix. Primary fermentation should take around 4-5 days. The “bubbling” will have stopped.

Now we want to rack the mixture into a different container. I usually use a small carboy for this. Try to keep out as much sediment as possible. Now add another pound of sugar. Stir well. Let ferment in dark, warm location for 1 week.  Then, rack the mixture again into another glass container and let sit for another 6 weeks. This process helps to clarify the wine. You can also add some typical chemicals to the mix to stop primary fermentation (i.e. Campden tablets, potassium sorbate, etc.). Pour into wine bottles and seal. Wine will be ready for consumption in 6 months to a year.  Don’t be afraid to let some age, though. The flavor gets better with time.

We hope you will consider becoming part of this find Celtic Ozark tradition. You can find out more about making elderberry wine with Edith Brown’s book, Moonshine & Elderberry Wine.” It is a pretty good resource for making lots of traditional Ozark beverages. I know I have enjoyed my copy.

Slainte, Ray Province

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