Preserving the harvest: elderberry wine.

elderberrywine.JPGWine-making is one of my favorite ways to preserve the harvest. And elderberry wine is a classic. It’s so tasty—a bit like sherry or port.

I’ll tell you how I make it. But if you’ve never made wine before, I’d suggest a bit of reading before you start your own. My favorite book on fermentation of all sorts (including pickles, beer, and even miso) is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. He tells you what you need to know without getting too technical.

First collect elderberries. Lots of elderberries. Several big grocery bags full, if you want to make a five-gallon batch. (I remember climbing around in the creek with my friends when I was little, picking elderberries for our parents’ winemaking.)

Clean and de-stem your elderberries. De-stemming can be tedious. Some people use a fork, but I don’t mind getting my fingers purple. If the mess bothers you, you can freeze the clusters of berries on cookie sheets. Once they’re frozen, they come off the stems more easily.

Measure your berries. How many gallons do you have? Write this down somewhere.

Now, put your berries in a large crock or bucket—something big enough to hold them, with several inches left over at the top for foam. Pour enough boiling water over the berries to barely cover them. Cover the crock with a towel and leave it to steep for a day or so.

After the berries have had time to steep, add a packet of wine yeast. (Some people use baking yeast, but I’d suggest seeking out the wine yeast at a brew shop or online. Baking yeast can give off flavors.) Stir well.

Measure out 3 pounds of sugar for every gallon of elderberries you had. (Go find your notes.) Put the sugar in a pot with about a cup of water per pound of sugar. Heat until the sugar is entirely melted into a syrup. Cool the syrup and add it to the berries. (Sandorkraut suggests leaving the berries to ferment on their own for a few days before adding the sugar.)

Ferment the wine for four or five days, or until major bubbling has subsided. Stir it every day, several times a day—as often as you remember.

When it’s ready, strain the wine into a carboy or another container that will take an airlock. Make sure to squeeze all the juice out of the berries. Put an airlock on the carboy, and put the whole thing somewhere dark and not too cold. Leave it for a couple of months.

When you’re ready, siphon it into a clean carboy, leaving the “lees” (yeast residue) behind. You can taste it at this point, but it’ll likely be a little harsh. It needs a good six months or a year to mature. Leave it in a cool closet somewhere. (Don’t forget to check the airlock every once in a while to see if the water needs to be replenished.)

Bottle your wine in time for the following winter. In our house, we often drink a little glass after dinner as a winter tonic (and because it tastes really good). You can also use it just as you’d use any other elderberry preparation. It’s one of my favorites for staying healthy during flu season, and to support recovery from colds and flu.

I love to make herbal preparations that are as delicious as they are “good for you.” So elderberry wine is high on my list. It really is worth the wait.

43 Comments »

  1. The Herbwife’s Kitchen » Blog Party: Preserving the harvest. said,

    September 1, 2007 @ 4:09 pm

    [...] and I wrote about elderberry wine. (The best thing ever . . . in the winter, by the fire, with a book. [...]

  2. patty deighton said,

    July 18, 2008 @ 8:26 am

    Hi there, I live in Spain and have got lots of elderberry trees when should I pick the berries and I would like to make wine can you help.

    many thanks
    patty.d.

  3. crabappleherbs said,

    July 21, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

    Pick the berries when they’re purple-black, with no green ones. I’d suggest getting a copy of a book on fermentation if you haven’t made wine before — the one I mention in the post is a good one.

  4. BG Carol said,

    August 18, 2008 @ 10:08 am

    Have just started to grow my own fruit and veg this year, I live where there are lots of wild elderberrys on the sides of the road. Are these ok to pick to make the wine, they are small and green, what time of the year will they ripen, so as the beat the birds there.

    I have not made wine before, and find it crimmal that for the price of one bottle there, you could get five in France.

    I intend to purchase book, as suggested. so i can use the freezer full of rasberrys.

    Thank you.

  5. crabappleherbs said,

    September 9, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

    BG Carol: Elderberries are ripe when they are dark purple-black. I would be careful about harvesting from the side of a busy road, or from a bush growing in a ditch that drains a road. Good luck!

  6. Jenny said,

    August 25, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

    I have a steam juicer that I use to extract the juice from my eldeberries leaving pure juice. My question is may I use this extracted juice to make wine?
    Thank you in advance for your assistance in this matte.

  7. Kaleb said,

    August 29, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

    Steam distilled juice works great for wines. I also prefer to use half sugar and half honey (by weight), it’s so much smoother.

  8. Jo-Ann Middleton said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 7:05 am

    I am new to your site, but I’m liking what I’m seeing. Thanks for all the info. However, I have a couple questions. First, I’ve already ordered your book suggestion, but my question is on Jenny’s post back on August 25. She commented on using a steam juicer. Where did she get it? and does it matter whether you use a steam juicer or a regular steamer. I’m sure I’ll have more questions as I’m planning on taking advantage of our new Elder Berry bush at our new home. Thanks in advance.

  9. Jo-Ann Middleton said,

    September 6, 2009 @ 9:09 pm

    Hi again,

    I just wanted to give you an update. I found a steam juicer that I can make the juice from the Elderberry. All wine recipes talk about taking the berries and submersing them in water…….etc………what is the proceedure if I have a juicer?

    BTW…..I got the book Wild Fermentation and really enjoyed it.

    Thanks in advance.

  10. MegPDX said,

    September 9, 2009 @ 8:01 pm

    I am in the process of making a small amount (one gallon) of elderberry wine, I’ve been having discussions with my local wine supply store and one of the guys there recommended not using a steam juicer, but if you must you should be certain to add pectic enzymes because heating the berries causes the pectin to bind and this causes cloudy wine later on. I used a steam juicer for about half of my berries, added pectic enzymes the next day (he recommended they be added while heating) – we’ll see how cloudy the wine turns out (good thing I don’t mind what how it looks – just tastes!)

    Good luck to you all!

  11. Dan said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

    I just finished picking 2 bushels of elderberries, with more to come. I want to make wine with EB.
    I made EB. wine last year and it turned out pretty good, I should have waited for it to mature but I enjoyed it just the same.
    My question is can I make the wine with the stems still on the berries? Like they do with grapes. Do you know if anyone has tried that and how it worked out?
    Thanks for your knowledge and web page

  12. kate said,

    August 5, 2010 @ 6:04 pm

    The general consensus amongst herbalists is to remove stalks from elderberry before making medicines like tinctures as the stalks are considered somewhat toxic. I’ve used tincture from elderberries with stalks on, and it’s been fine, but you take a risk that someone will react to the stalks and/or it will affect the taste of the wine (I’m not a wine maker so not sure of the taste risk. If I was making a liqueur I’d remove the stalks).

  13. Michele said,

    August 5, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

    We just prepared our juice for our elderberry wine. This is the first time that we are making it. We used a electric juicer and put the whole thing in. Stem and all. Is that ok or should we have picked the berries off.

  14. Catherine Gipson said,

    August 11, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

    Hi, we are in the process of making elberberry wine, as my older sister in her 70′s requested some, we found elderberries growing ,pick them, & husband & I sit in the shade & destem them, we enjoyed the relaxing time doing this. brought back lots of memories of desteming eb when i was a child. they are so beautiful. my question can we grow eb in garden. I would love to plant my own, even through i would miss the adventure we enjoy roadsiding together (husband & I).I also have enough eb to make jam can’t wait. with homemade bread yum.
    good ole hot summer time fun. Catherine, August,2010

  15. Raelyn said,

    June 8, 2011 @ 11:24 am

    I am getting ready to make elderberry wine from elderberries I harvested last fall and put in the freezer. I am looking for wine yeast and finding different kinds. What should I get and do you recommend an online supplier? I don’t have a shop local. Also, I found a recipe for elderflower wine. Have you ever mixed flowers and berries?

    A trick to de-stemming the berries is putting them in the freezer for a little while until the berries are firm and then just messaging them off the stem. I have made jam and if you leave any stem on it makes the jam taste bitter.

  16. bianka said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

    Hi I have a huge elderberry tree and every year I want to make wine it hasn’t got thorns and the berries are black – the tree itself grows vine like branches which root everywhere – so what I am asking is, is this type of elderberry tree safe to make wine from ? I missed the flowers but then again don’t have a herbal receipe for them anyway- I live in france so where would I get the wine yeast from and what is it called please?

    bianka

  17. bianka said,

    July 19, 2011 @ 11:21 am

    Hi to the moderator – is there anyway one can tick a box before submitting a comment that will notify me when someone replies to my comment please?

  18. tammy said,

    August 18, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

    so glad i found your website!!! my father has more elderberries than he knows what to do with. i have a wine kit, my question is: how much juice should i use per gallon of wine. he has already juiced the berries.

  19. cf said,

    September 28, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

    I have about 15 gallons of berries from this fall enough to make maybe 35 gallons of wine. We really like an apple-elderberry wine 3 to 5 parts apple to 1 part elderberry. Another nice combo is raspberry elderberry. The tannin in the elderberry adds that little bit of bit. I remove the berries by sliding the umbrellas over a 1/4 in hardware cloth place over a pail. It works best when berries are fresh picked. I have frozen them, but this method works the best for me. I can get 5 gallons of berries in 90 minutes.

  20. gaze said,

    November 30, 2011 @ 6:17 am

    Hi all! I have a couple of stupid questions about eb wine. I tried it for the first time two months ago and I used a different way that I’d read before coming to your site – slowly boiling berries with sugar/lemon for 15′ before fermenting. It seems logical to me since eb can be poisoning. Fermenting went VERY active and gave lots of smell, so I strained the liquid to the 5 gallon bottles without waiting for the end of fermentation.Then I did not use an airlock, just put a rubber clove on the top, as my father did with other home wines. Now the wine (if I still can call it wine) is standing at room t under rubber clove, no fermenting is seen, no bad smell; the taste is rather rather strong and just a sip of it gave me a headache. Any idea what have I done and what can be done now? Waiting longer as it? botteling? something elce? I hate to think that I’ve spoiled it…
    PS. Special thank you for the lovely site!!

  21. Crackedcork said,

    December 21, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

    We have a site dedicated to growing, picking and making wine from elderberries at
    http://www.oatmealjack.com/Elderberries/Elderberries.html . There are pictures of what elderberries look like, there are easy ways to get the berries off of the stems and get rid of the green ones as well as elderberry wine and mead recipes. Crackedcork

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  29. Brian Fentiman said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 4:36 am

    Just making a new batch of hawthorn berry wine and having poured the boiling water over the berries which had been frozen the mixture started to smell unpleasant after 4 days of the required 7 days as called for in the “Home Brewing” book.
    It hasn’t happened in any previous makings

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