Growing elderberry…hmm, this looks like exactly what I need. I begin reading the article.
“…put on protective goggles and rubber gloves…”
Wait, what? You need protective goggles and gloves to plant a tree seed?
“…place the seeds in sulfuric acid…”
Okay, no, wait, stop. Just stop right there.
Any plant that requires sulfuric acid to grow from seed scares me.
As some of you know from my Facebook page, I’ve begun seriously studying herbalism again. About 25 years ago, I studied Bach flower essences and herbalism before either was trendy. I set my studies aside for a long time, but now the seed planted long ago has grown again. I am back studying plant-based diets, herbalism, flower essences, and healing from the garden.
So far, I’ve completed two official courses: An Introduction to Herbal Medicine from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, and a Materia Medica Course from the Herbal Institute. Both were fantastic classes, inspirational, well-taught and filled with important information. Herbal books filled with highlights and underscores are piling up in my plant room around my reading chair as I once again dig into my studies. It feels good to be learning again!
My pantry is also filling with jar after jar of dried herbs and now tonics such as fire cider. In the spring, I will make my first batches of herbal tincture and flower essences.
All of this led me re-discovering elderberry. We have one wild elderberry bush near our home, but it’s not on our land, and it’s on a busy corner where cars whiz by and can’t see if you’re a crazy herbalist and forager trying to lean over a cattle fence to pluck some elderberry flowers….not that I have done this, mind you. Oh no, not me.
I’ve walked through our woods several times and although we have wonderful wild flowers, no elderberry in site. So I decided I would add some of my own to the treeline near my garden shed. It’s a great spot near enough to the rest of the vegetable garden so that I’ll tend the trees but not so close to the house that if they spread aggressively, they won’t take over the garden.
Elderberry syrup is a time-honored cough syrup and cold remedy. I’ve seen recipes for elderberry ice pops that are also great when you have a sore throat. I’d like to have a pantry full of home remedies for simple family needs such as these.
I purchased my package of seeds from Strictly Medicinal seeds and although the seed package has directions, I decided to search how to grow elderberry from seeds online.
Big mistake. That’s where the article that mentions protective goggles and sulfuric acid showed up. Honestly, raise your hand if you happen to have sulfuric acid in your garden shed? Nope, me neither. And it scares me. Isn’t that what the crazy people in the old horror movies dip their victims in order to disintegrate the bodies?
Reading through the article, I realized that what the author meant to explain was the process of stratification. Many tree seeds and some flower seeds need winter weather in order to germinate. Stratification simulates the conditions that open up the hard outer protective coating around the germ of the seed. It’s the seed’s signal to sprout.
I realized that we stratified our apple tree seeds collected from the old trees on the Appalachian Trail. We simply planted them in the fall in pots on the deck, allowing nature’s freezing and thawing to stratisfy the seeds.
Instead of acid, all I need to do is soak my elderberry seeds overnight in water, then mash the protective fiber off of the hard inner seed coat. Next, the seeds can be planted in potting soil in containers. The containers can then be left on the deck until May. The daytime heating, followed by the nighttime freeze, is just righ to stratisfy the seeds. Hopefully they will germinate…and I won’t need an acid bath!!!
The things you learn as a gardener. I can’t wait until it’s time for growing elderberry in the garden and sharing with you its progress.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.