As I pick, the prominent creases in my palms fill with the deep purple, almost black, juice of the elderberries. The plastic fork I use to comb the berries from the stems, jabs and pokes the delicate skin, bursting the deepest flavored berries. I decide to use my fingers to coerce the berries from their stems. An effort to save as much of the precious juice as possible for the medicinal concoction I’ll be making. I relish the intimate hand labor to collect sustenance for my body. Ray Bradbury said it best when he described the art of doing things by hand as something that imbues actions with spirit and enduring significance.
Several years ago I discovered an enviable passion for the medicinal properties of Elderberries. Elderberry’s antioxidant capacity is one of the highest of all wild food sources. A tablespoon a day of elderberry syrup is enough to stave off the most arduous cold and flu season. As with many things, homemade is not only better but cheaper. So 15 years ago along a shallow ditch next to a wild space, I planted ten elderberry whips, a florescent ribbon marking their place in the wilderness. All I could do was let time pass.
The head-high bushes started producing at 10 years. Most harvests now produce enough to share with friends, family and a variety of bird species. The birds have spread the seeds by a method I lightheartedly refer to as “poop and plant”. Our property now has scatterings of elderberry bushes that are exclusively food for wildlife. The serendipitous way “passing it forward” occurred makes me wonder if nature had a plan for my relationship with the elderberry all along. The land has been waiting to welcome the elderberry. Evidenced by its proliferation into the hidden wild areas only a winged-one can reach.
With that thought, I would like to share my elderberry syrup recipe. I’m not really sure you can call it a recipe. It’s more of a creative adventure in food preservation. I hope during the process you feel the hand/heart connection … that your being is imbue with spirit, knowing the enduring significance this one action has on the health and well-being of all that surrounds you.
Ingredients: Elderberry juice (2-3 cups), 1 tsp Cinnamon, 3/4 tsp Ginger, Raw honey
Put clean elderberries into a pot with a good splash of water. Whatever you pick will be enough. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer. Crush berries in the pot. Let them cook at a simmer, crushing and mixing, for 5-10 minutes. A potato masher works well. Once you feel you have squeezed every last drop of juice from the berries, drain the liquid. I use a mesh strainer. To the liquid add the spices. Adjust amounts to your taste. The measurements I gave are a starting point. Add the raw honey at last, after the juice has cooled. Stir well. SYRUP MUST BE STORED IN THE REFRIGERATOR.
I take a tablespoon a day beginning in September. It’s yummy drizzled over yogurt or mixed into oatmeal.
I wasn’t sure if the cheeks facing me were on the smile end or the seat end of this caterpillar but it didn’t matter. Either way, she made me crack a smile. What a delight to see this amazing cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) caterpillar in our apple orchard on this dewy fresh morning. She was nearly as big as my thumb!
With a wingspan of 5-6 inches, the cecropia moth is the largest North American moth. All winter will be spent in a 4-5 inch cocoon. In late May, the cercropia moths emerge from their cocoons. The female only lives about two weeks, just long enough to mate and lay eggs.
Because their skin doesn’t grow the cercropia caterpillar goes through several molting phases, each time attaching itself to a silken pad it has spun. When the new skin is fully developed it will literally walk out of its old skin. This cercropia caterpillar is in the fifth instar larvae stage.
If you have the good fortune to see an adult cercropia moth, I promise you will not be disappointed. Their spectacular color and size is something you will not soon forget. The cercropia moth is another example of nature’s marvelous metamorphosis; ever thing in sacred motion.
Moth medicine is that of inner knowing, determination, vulnerability and movement. I wish her well on her magnificent journey of transformation and hope we meet again in the May night, both of us with our wings.
Summer’s youth wanes,
each day riper with fullness,
Phlox’s bright eyes open wide.
A delightfully lovely fragrance,
once cradled in her bosomy blooms,
now billows gently in the breeze.
Hot pink petals aflame,
devour the green scenery,
burning off the heat’s heaviness.
A Sphinx Moth visits,
humming above nectar filled flowers,
long tongues dip into wells of sweetness.
The cool of the evening,
invites me back for a visit.
I sit enchanted by the tall aristocratic beauty.
Phlox, you are the queen of my garden empire.
I bow to you.
An excerpt from Sweet Wisdoms….
Tractor fumes mingle with the sweet scent of freshly turned hay. The sickle cut close to the earth. Tall proud stems and blades laid and dried by the breath of the sun. A steady parade of bulging squares marched out of the baler to be stacked in an orderly fashion on the hayrack, and following each, a cough of fine chafe that stuck to beads of sweat draped across my brow. Bald fields void of lush green begin again.
When the daylight is extinguished I’ll rest, my forearms speckled with tiny cuts from the stems of hay, my fingers swollen from plucking taut twine. To know that this labor keeps hunger from winter’s long reach and squeezes the throat of drought gives my soul temporary satisfaction.
Next summer, I’ll begin again like green fields.
My summer dream is here! The air is heavy with heat, the sun high and still. Endless ribbons of golden light flow through the cloudless sky. In the garden, the green promise of this season’s abundance dangles from every vine and stem. An early morning surprise greeted me in the blueberry patch. I popped the plumb blue nuggets in my mouth, bursting the sweet pleasure between my tongue and cheek. Maybe tomorrow a few will make it beyond the patch boundaries to the house—maybe.
Having the first crop of hay tucked away in a quiet corner of the shed is the crowning achievement of my hot weather farm duties. Summer’s green fills the pockets of my heart with gratitude and contentment. It’s a priceless feeling of freedom, knowing you have enough.
This time of sun feeds more than the body. I’ll stow away the memories of these soft days to warm my spirit when the landscape turns hard and cold. Summer unfolds life before us, constantly and gracefully, each day a birth of possibility. The dream she has for us is to release our unlimited potential and prosper. May summer’s dream awaken and grow within you.