Black Elderberries: Versatile and healthy, but do not eat raw
Small, round, shiny, deep purple to black - the berry-like fruits of black elder are great to look at when they hang on the bush in umbrella-like cones from August. And not only that: the little fruits are full of healthy ingredients, especially potassium and iron and many vitamins are abundant.
The black elder Sambucus nigra is a special plant. For several centuries, its flowers and fruits have been collected and used for food or medicinal purposes. In the course of summer, the black fruits develop from the small, yellowish-white flowers with the beguiling scent. They are only five to six millimeters in size, spherical and hang on dark red stems in umbrella-shaped truss cones, which then often lean downwards due to their weight. Botanically, the fruits are stone fruits, not real berries. Each individual fruit contains a woody core with three tiny seeds in a strongly coloring violet flesh. The contained dark to black-red juice tastes tart and sweet-sour. In addition to the wild forms, there are also cultivated elderberry varieties for the garden, the fruits of which are larger and also mature more uniformly.
The Black Elderberry scores above all with a comparatively high mineral content - especially potassium and magnesium - as well as provitamin A, some vitamin C and vitamins from the B group, including the vitamin niacin (formerly also called B3). This is important for many metabolic processes in the body. The fruits also contain two other substances that sound similar, but their effects are very different: The dye sambucyanin is a valuable flavonoid that is supposed to prevent cardiovascular and cancer diseases. The similar sounding sambunigrin, on the other hand, is a plant poison that releases hydrocyanic acid. The toxin is found in the seeds of ripe fruit, in unripe fruit and in green stems and leaves. Eating raw fruits or products made from them such as juice can cause vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Since the toxin breaks down when heated, it is important to heat the ripe fruit or juice to over 80 degrees Celsius. The sambunigrin then loses its toxic effect. Then all other healthy ingredients of the low calorie elder come into play. They strengthen the immune system, support important functions in the body and help to rebuild the mineral balance, for example after a gastrointestinal illness.
After sufficient heating, the valuable fruits can be used in many ways in the kitchen. They can be processed very well into juice, syrup or jelly, but jam, compote, cold dishes and sauces are also a pleasure. If you like, you can also process the fruit into mousse, sorbet, ice cream or into punch, wine or liqueur. And not only sweet dishes can be made well, the elderberries also taste great with hearty dishes such as game. They are used industrially for the production of juices, wine, fruit fillings or fruit spirits.
Tip: Elder umbels can be found, for example, at weekly markets and in the farm shop. If you collect them yourself, you should take care not to confuse the black elder with the dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus) or the red elder (Sambucus racemosa). The fruits of the dwarf elder are inedible, those of the red elder can only be used after the seeds have been removed, since the toxin contained in them does not break down when heated. If in doubt, you should first ask a specialist. If you are sure that it is the black elderberry, you can harvest the ripe fruit by cutting off the whole umbels with scissors - preferably with rubber gloves to avoid stubborn stains. The umbels are washed thoroughly and then stripped from the stems with a fork.