West Coast Wild Harvest Issue 1 Spring/Summer 2016 - Page 62

HISTORICAL E very year when the red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) ripen, I marvel at their beauty and quantity. Clusters of bright red fruit cascade from black stems and dark green foliage with branch bending abundance. Resembling a northern version of Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), they seem better suited to ripening during Christmastime than the heat of the summer, yet ripen they do by the first hot days of summer. It is hard to ignore a wild edible that grows as commonly as red elderberry, but most wild food books caution against eating the berries, despite traditional use by nearly all the First Nations groups in the Pacific Northwest. On several occasions I have cooked and sampled the fruit, but until recently, my enthusiasm never lasted beyond a tentative taste of the cooked fruit. This year, however, I resolved to carry my experiments through to completion, and what follows is my first serious attempts to try and crack the palatability secretes of red elderberry. But first, a little backgr