Elderberry flowers and studies in bloom!

June 25, 2024

As we continue to get increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, we’re working hard to build our collective resilience through Midwest native edible crops like elderberries. Elderberries are one of our key cultivated crops within the food forest and hedgerows for several reasons.

Firstly, elderberries are very fast-growing and versatile. We are five to ten years out from seeing any significant harvests from most of the food forest trees and shrubs, whereas asparagus and elderberries have been harvested for a couple of years now. For instance, we harvested elderberry blossoms for a few seasons to create collaborative early summer beer with Jeff’s brother’s brewery (BubbleHouse Brewing Company). This year, we harvested elderberry flowers for a new product we are developing with our friends and partners at Drippin’ Culture in Waukegan. As we wait for longer term harvests to come, these early harvests keep us active and engaged in the food forest.

Secondly, elderberries move us toward our goal of creating edible hedgerows. Our goal for permaculture throughout the farm is to better build and manage our soils, integrate regenerative agriculture approaches into the farm, and add to the diversity of food we can offer our community. Hedgerows are already essential to our biodiverse farm serving as animal habitat, pollination stations, and much-needed windbreaks for our crops. If we can make them pleasant places to stop for food, too, even better! We are working on a project with the Savannah Institute (SI) to design more edible hedgerows throughout the farm.

Photo credit: Savannah Institute

Thirdly, we will soon to take part in a breeding trial, also in partnership with the Savannah Institute, towards developing ideal elderberry varieties for our region. Our agroforestry plan already includes a separate area exclusively for trialing different cultivars of elderberry for taste and performance, so this was a natural fit with their elderberry studies. Additionally, elderberries have a myriad of medicinal uses and like the ginger and garlic we grow, elderberries easily fit into the category of food as medicine. Since we’re interested in growing for taste, performance and health, our objectives directly matched those of the SI breeding program and we plan to engage in trial-based growing and sampling.

Perennial crops are important part of our work, in addition to our annuals, and we get better at growing and working with these crops each season. As our crops develop further, we continue to explore scalable harvesting options to harvest elderberries efficiently in larger volumes and consider how we can share this knowledge with other local elderberry growers as well.

Until then, enjoy this week’s early summer harvest!

~ Your farmers and the Liberty Prairie team