Sunday, September 21, 2008


The canal towpaths are a buffet of wild stuff ready to eat. I took home at least five pounds of rosehips, and two of elderberries, and I'm going to use the last of the blackberries from last week to make elderberry and blackberry cordial.

Elderberries contain more vitamin C than any other herb except for black currants and rosehips, and researchers at the university of Anglesea (first I've heard of such a place) have found out that they are extremely good for the skin.

I have a row of bottles I've been saving for cordial making, but I was worried about sealing them and having the cordial mould, but with the recipe below I think there will be no problems. It's the hooch, see. And cloves are a preservative, apparently.

Elder is one of those trees that has a lot of history in this country:

Evidence of the elder tree has been traced back to the stone age village sites in Italy and Switzerland. It has a history of myth and magic as well as healing. The shrub was said to be a haven for lost spirits and medieval people refused to cut it down or burn it. Hippocrates mentioned the elder as an early purgative and Pliny mentions it's use by the Romans as well. "Elder" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word 'aeld' which meant 'fire' as the hollowed out stems were used to blow up a fire, and the hollowed out tubes were also used to fashion early pipes, giving it the name of "Pipe Tree."

Shakespeare refers to the elder in "Cymbeline" as a symbol of sadness and grief, yet for the English it forms one of the prettiest hedgerows and it's varied early medicinal use has made it a tree they welcome into their countryside.

There are many references to the elder being the tree Judas used to hang himself from, and one of it's names is the "Judas Tree." Other historical accounts say the Cross of Calvary was made of elder wood, hence linking it to sorrow and death. Yet with all of the tales of sorrow attached to this amazing tree it regenerates into a medicinal wonder.

The popular pop-gun of small boys in the country has often been made of Elder stems from which the pith has been removed, which moved Culpepper to declare: 'It is needless to write any description of this (Elder), since every boy that plays with a pop-gun will not mistake another tree for the Elder.' Pliny's writings also testify that pop-guns and whistles are manufactures many centuries old!

This old fashioned recipe is a favorite during cold and flu season, but can be enjoyed anytime.

* 1 tablespoon whole allspice
* 1 tablespoon cloves
* 1 piece stick cinnamon
* 8 quarts blackberries or elderberries
* 2 quarts cold water
* 4 pounds granulated sugar
* 2 quarts whiskey or brandy

Tie spices in a cloth bag. Pick over and wash berries. Place in preserving kettle; cover with water, and boil until thoroughly soft; then strain. Measure, and to each quart of juice add 2 cups sugar. Add spice bag and boil 20 minutes. Let cool, and measure again. To each quart of syrup, add 1 pint or whiskey or brandy. Bottle and cork tightly.

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