My mother picked strawberries and wild blueberries with her mother, and so did I. My Finnish heritage has given me a an appreciation for berries, wild and cultivated.
Berries are abundant in Finland (37 types of edible wild berries) and an important addition to the diet. Enjoyment of berries is a family tradition.
According to a website about Finland: Nordic growing conditions are harsh yet productive. The berries and mushrooms that grow in Finnish forests are part of the traditional Finnish diet, and gathering them is a pastime for many families that has been passed down through generations. The fruits of the northern forests are coveted by gourmet chefs, and are increasingly exported.
When my children were little, thimbleberry jam had become popular in Upper Michigan. The wild thimbleberries grow along ditches and creek beds, sometimes not far from the rugged glory of Lake Superior.
When we visited Grandpa and Grandma in Upper Michigan, we joined them on excursions to find and pick the berries. We cleaned the berries as a family project. Grandma made jam and I learned how to make it too.
Thimbleberry jam is lovely treat during winter. It brings back memories of the summer, hiking in Upper Michigan.
I have gradually added to the berries growing in my back yard, discovering which ones flourish. Blueberries and thimbleberries don’t do well. I have strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, elderberries and currants. The grandchildren delight in picking them, especially the raspberries and currants.
It is a good year for berries and cherries. I have been harvesting cherries, raspberries, currants and gooseberries. My cherry tree and berry bushes have been delightfully full of fruit.
It is also a good year for the Japanese beetles. I have had some every year.
It has been my practice to check the bushes and knock the beetles off into a container of soapy water. Typically the beetles have been on my raspberry bushes and rose bushes.
The leaves on the raspberry bush are a tell tale sign.
A couple weeks ago I looked out of my kitchen window and noticed that the leaves on the upper branches of my cherry tree were all eaten. Whoa! !
I tried my method of knocking beetles into soapy water. I stood on a chair and used a long stick. Some times the beetles fell in the water, sometimes they fell on my head or on my clothes. I enlisted the help of my son. We picked off hundreds of beetles.
My husband said we needed to find an additional method. So after doing an on-line search I bought a beetle trap that has floral scents and a pheromone lure. The reviews of such a trap were mixed.
I followed the directions and hung the trap on a pole away from the cherry tree, away from the raspberry bushes and rose bushes. To my amazement the trap began to attract beetles immediately.
In one afternoon the trap had a large heap of beetles.
So I wonder, is this a banner year for the beetles? Or can I expect this to happen again next year? I looked up the life cycle of Japanese beetles and discovered that the females burrow in the ground after dusk and lay eggs that hatch into pupa, become grubs and emerge as beetles the next season. We may need to treat the lawn. Grubs feed on the roots of grass, tomatoes and strawberries—and of course I have all of these in my yard!
The infestation is discouraging—but I have much to be thankful for. My freezer is filling up with berries. The elderberry bushes are full of blooms.
I will have lots of elderberries in August (and the beetles aren’t touching those bushes). I will be canning elderberry juice for the winter months.
A number of recipes for elderberry syrup are posted on the internet. I have collected ideas for making the best use of my elderberries. I want to preserve the health benefits for this fall and winter.
UPDATE 3/13/2020: Please use caution when taking elderberry syrup during a viral infection. It is possible that it may overstimulate the immune system. This article explains when you should stop taking elderberry.
I have a good harvest of berries this year. Instead of making a syrup to keep in the refrigerator, I am going to can elderberry juice. Then during flu season, I can bring out the preserved juice and add some raw honey. Raw honey has helpful enzymes, but the health benefit diminishes if it is heated.
The recipe for elderberry juice: place 1 cup of water for each cup of berries in a stainless steel pot. (If you are using dried berries you will need 2 cups of water for each cup of berries.) Bring to a boil and then simmer over low heat, covered, for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Crush the berries with a potato masher and add ¼ teaspoon ceylon cinnamon for each cup of berries, a slice of organic ginger root and a couple slices of an organic lemon.
Simmer for 20 minutes more without a cover. Strain the berries in a strainer that has been lined with a double layer of cheesecloth.
Allow it to drain, pressing on the berries periodically with a wooden spoon. Add ¼ cup honey to each cup of strained juice and mix thoroughly. Heat the juice to a simmer over medium heat before pouring into sterilized jars.
According to instructions for berry juice in Stocking Up* the juice can be canned in a hot water bath. Place the prepared lids on the jars. Tighten the lids and then give a quarter turn back. Place in the prepared boiling water–making sure that the jars are submerged, water above the lids. Instructions for pint or quart jars give a 30 minute processing time. I plan to use 8 ounce jars. For 8 oz. jars the time might be a little less, but to be safe I will process for 30 minutes. (If you make a small amount of juice there is no need to can it. Allow the juice to cool. Add 1/2 cup of raw honey to a cup of juice and refrigerate. It will keep for a couple months.)
When the jar of juice is opened for use it can be poured into a larger jar and raw honey added. And then it should be kept in the refrigerator. A child can be given a teaspoon at a time. An adult can take a tablespoon at a time. The dose can be repeated every couple hours when fighting a cold or the flu.
An alternative way to use the juice–place a teaspoon (or a tablespoon) of juice in water or cooled tea. Add a teaspoon of raw honey.
NOTE: This remedy is not for children under one year of age; they should not be given honey.
I look upon the pleasure which we take in a garden, as one of the most innocent delights in human life. Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
This year the branches on my elderberry bushes are laden with abundant berries. The dainty flowers came first, adding a lovely lace among the green.
Flowers of the common elderberry can be steeped to make a tea, which is often recommended to relieve headaches. The flower cluster can also be battered and fried to make interesting fritters. *
I have three elderberry bushes at different stages of ripeness. It is true that having different varieties of elderberry—like Johns, Adams & York—encourages a good harvest for each bush. I will be picking berries all the way through August. When I pick the berries I cut the cluster of berries and remove the berries from the little stems. The stems and unripe berries can cause a digestive upset. I am freezing my ripe berries until I have enough to make a batch of elderberry syrup.
Elderberries have many benefits. In Israel, Hadassah’s Oncology Lab has determined that elderberry stimulates the body’s immune system and they are treating cancer and AIDS patients with it. The wide range of medical benefits (from flu and colds to debilitating asthma, diabetes, and weight loss) is probably due to the enhancement of each individual’s immune system. For more information click here.