Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Sing the Song of Harvest

A Song for Mabon

Summer glories are past
Autumn fruits here at last
Here's a health to the land and the flocks
As the evenings draw in
Let us gather our kin
Singing praises for harvest and crops
Singing praises for harvest and crops

Now the apples shine bright
And the nuts are all ripe
Here's a health to the trees and the briars
As the light equals dark
Let us all strike a spark
Singing praises for wood, copse and hedge
Singing praises for wood, copse and hedge

Mother Elder stands firm
Berries black on her stems
Here's a health to the herbs and the flowers
As the sun looses heat
So we gather to meet
Singing praises for plants, wild and free
Singing praises for plants, wild and free

Now the leaves are on fire
As we gather in byres
Here's a health for the harvest and crops
As we all eat our fill
Please recall if you will
To sing praises and thanks for the year
To sing praises and thanks for the year

Sarah J Head , September 2004

The theme of this month’s Herbwifery Forum blog party hosted by Darcey on is harvest.

Growing up on a small arable farm in the heart of English countryside, harvest conjures up furiously-busy August days, golden severed stubble, dust laden cereals and barley hales sticking to everything. September and October herald a very different kind of gathering with splashes of colour emblazoning hedgerows.

In past years I gathered bright red haws and black elderberries during the August Bank Holiday and the first weekend in September, but this year, whilst haws were ripe both in field and garden; elderberries were still green and hard. I had to be content with putting up hawthorn brandy and vinegar and trust my parents would find time to gather elderberries for me whilst I was half way across the world enjoying myself.

Ever since I started working with herbs, elderberries have been one of my most important harvests. For two years I spent the first weekend in September at the Bristol Kite Festival. When not watching amazing kite teams like The Decorators with their eight revolution kites, I was sitting by the caravan stripping berries from their stalks and then squeezing juice into a plastic bowl by twisting them around inside a length of old cotton sheet ready to make Non Shaw’s elderberry rob. I always wondered what other festival goers made of my purple stained cloth and fingers!

Elderberries are a wonderful way to introduce people to making their own herbal medicine. At my September workshop last year, a new participant was greeted by having a bowl of elderberries thrust into her arms together with a fork and she spent the next half hour happily stripping berries ready to make Kiva Rose’s elderberry elixir. She was also given a handout with several recipes for different cordials to take home with her.

She emailed me the following week saying she had gone out and picked her own supply of elderberries from trees nearby and made a cordial which she had taken into work to treat her colleagues’ dreadful colds. She said everyone had been very grateful and impressed by how well the elderberry worked to make them feel better.

The elixir prepared in September’s sunshine was distributed to women who came to my first home workshop in November. Everyone loved the taste so much; there were grumbles about the dosage being only one dropperful at a time!

Elderberry Rob 1
from ‘The Countryside Cook Book’ by Gail Duff.
1.8kg (4lbs) elderberries, weighed on stemtwo 5cm (2inch) pieces cinnamon stick1 piece ginger root bruised2 chips nutmeg5ml (1 teaspoon) allspice berries5ml (1teaspoon) cloves275ml (1 ½ pint water)350g (12 oz) honey to each 375-ml (1 pint) liquid150ml (1/4 pint) brandyTake the elderberries from the stalks. Put them into a saucepan with the spices and water. Bring them gently to the boil and simmer them until the pan is full of juice, about 20 minutes. Put a piece of muslin or an old linen tea towel over a large bowl. Pour the elderberries through it. Gather the sides together and squeeze out as much juice as you can. Measure it and return to the cleaned saucepan. Bring the juice to the boil and add the honey. Stir for it to dissolve and then boil the syrup for 10 minutes. Take the pan from the heat and wait until the syrup stops bubbling. Pour in the brandy. Pour the hot cordial into hot sterilised bottles and cork it tightly. Fills about 1 ½ wine bottles.

Elderberry Rob 2
This elderberry rob recipe is from Non Shaw's book, "Herbalism: An Illustrated Guide". Her method is "Take a quantity of elderberries and strip them off their stalks with a fork. Press out the juice using a wine press or jelly bag" I usually put them into a large piece of clean used cotton sheet and twist one end around until you can't squeeze out any more. This is a very tactile experience and you shouldn't use or wear anything you don't mind getting stained purple from the juice! "Add 1tsp allspice and 1/2 tsp ginger (optional) per 2 pints of liquid in a heavy bottomed pan" (preferably stainless steel or glass)"Reduce over a low heat until the juice is the consistency of molasses. Bottle and store in a cool place. Dose: Take 1tsp in a cup of hot water daily." I like this recipe because it doesn't use any sugar or honey and therefore is suitable for people with diabetes either type 1 or 2.

Elderberry Syrup
From Roger Phillips’ Wild Food Simmers the berries for 30 minutes and then add 1lb sugar and 10 cloves to each pint of juice. Boil for 10 minutes and allow to cool. Freeze in small quantites or pack in small, screw-top sterilized bottles.

Elderberry Cordial
Barbara Grigson, in her book "The Greenwitch: A Modern Woman's Herbal" gives a very simple recipe for spiced elderberry cordial which I like. "Wash and destalk the berries. Put 2lbs of them in a pan with a cupful of water and simmer until they have given up most of their juice. Crush and strain the berries through a seive. Put the juice back in a saucepan with five cloves, an inch or so of fresh root ginger, grated and 1/2 lb of sugar. Simmer for another hour and then store in tightly sealed jars."I strain my cordial before bottling. I either add it to a "cold tea" or my cough syrup or have it by itself if I remember!

Last year I made jars and jars of elderberry tincture and cordial which are still waiting to be used in the larder. For some reason we weren’t afflicted with the usual winter diseases! I know I have two boxes of elderberries waiting for me in my parents’ freezer so I shall be trying Kiva Rose’s new recipe for elderberry elixir at the workshop in November or before.

My other hopes for late harvest include blackberry syrup and nettle root tincture. All I need now is the time to forage amongst the hedgerows and dig deep into the earth, ever grateful for her miraculous bounty.


Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Sarah. Thanks for all these recipes. Now, if only I can find some fresh elderberries! None this year, maybe I will find one next. I am making Kiva's elixer with my purchased dried berries, though, so not totally without this winter.

Anonymous said...

Sarah! Ygraine! Ma'am! 'tis the First Bear of Britain! same on msn

Sarah Head said...

Hi Tammy
I've missed most of the elderberries here, but my parents have frozen a few for me and I'm hoping to put those up in some honey. I went for a walk in my lunchhour on Thursday by the canal in the middle of the city and found some very late berries hiding at the back of a bush, so I made up some of Kiva's elixir with lemon peel and cinnamon as I don't have any osha or oranges. It will be interesting to see how it tastes. I've just been round to some common land in the road near to mine and found some hawthorn berries to make some more vinegar for my father in law who is having heart problems and some rosehips and blackberries to make a demonstration syrup for a talk I'm giving to two sheltered housing complexes on hedgerow herbs.

Anonymous said...

Lovely article Sarah, loved the poem so much :) I made my elderberry elixir and elderberry vinegar as you know. I have about 1kg of blackberries in the freezer that I was saving to make a blackberry oxymel, but I'm now tempted with the idea of blackberry syrup or even a cordial, would you share your syrup recipe, pretty please?

Hecate RavenMoon said...

Blessed be.
That was alovely poem/song. I wrote it down in my Book of Shadows, I hope you don't mind. I want to add it to my Samhain ritual.

Your posts are always so wonderful. And so are your recipes.

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Head said...

I'm delighted you wish to use my Song for Mabon in your Samhain ritual, Ravenmoon. I have a song for Samhain as well if you would like to see it. I can send you an mp3 of the tune for the Mabon song if that would be helpful.

Anonymous said...

They are quite beautiful to see bloom. lovely photographs.

Alyss said...

I put my elderberries in vodka this summer :) They've been sitting for two months and are ready to be strained out. I'm looking forward to holiday cocktails that aren't just liquor and sugary juice - healing elderberries too! :)