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Arsenic, Old Lace and Elderberry Wine

By Karen Jones (karri_sueJune 18, 2013

In the classic Arsenic and Old Lace, Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha poisoned lonely old bachelors with their concotion of spiked elderberry wine. Let's talk about some less lethal uses for the elderberry shrub.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 6, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.) 

I can't say much about elderberry wine as I haven't tried it, but I have used the lovely flowers that this shrub provides.  A hardy, deciduous shrub or tree, the American variety grows to 12'.  It grows in most zones and tolerates part shade well, even though it prefers full sun.  Elderberry grows wild where I live in east San Diego County.  Depending on your zone, it blooms in spring to early summer.  The flowers have a light, sweet honey-like scent. The flowers and berries are both useful in many applications.


           Elderberry ready to bloom

Elderberry flowers have a skin softening quality.  To use in a bath, place dried flowers in a muslin bag, either alone or mixed with other herbs.  Toss the bag into the tub as the hot water is running and allow the bag of herbs to 'brew' as the water cools to a comfortable temperature.  The flowers are also good for the hair as a rinse and are said to lighten freckles.

In the fall my elderberry bush is full of berries and the birds love them.  A co-worker told me that birds seem to be intoxicated after eating berries from his shrub.  I don't know if that is possible, but it makes a good story!  Perhaps the birds were the inspiration for the line "Feeling fine on elderberry wine" in Elton John's song.  If the birds leave me any berries in the fall, I plan to make jelly, as elderberries are high in vitamin C.  The following recipe is the one I will use.                        

Elderberry Jelly

3 c prepared elderberry juice

1/4 c lemon juice

1 pk sure gel (regular)

4 1/2 c sugar

Follow package instructions for making cooked and canned jelly.  (Bringing juice and pectin to boil, then adding sugar, boiling hard one minute, jarring up and processing in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes for half-pint jars.)  Looks like about five 8 ounce jars jelly.

You can find this recipe as well as recipes for fritters, wine, vinegars and even elderberry catsup at

If you have access to an elderberry, I hope you will try at least one of the recipes.  They all sound good to me except for the catsup; that just doesn't seem right!


Thanks to poppysue for the use of her picture of the berries.

  About Karen Jones  
I live in the mountains of San Diego county in a tiny rural town. I inherited a love for gardening from my mother and use herbs and flowers from my garden to make bath products.

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