The Amazing Blue Elderberry

by Mark on August 9, 2014

The Amazing Blue Elderberry

I am a push over for the wild blue elderberry. An amazing shrub that offers the forager a tremendous bounty of uses. Parts of the elderberry can be used for making fire, musical instruments, hunting weapons, traps, and in late summer and autumn prepare the ripe blue elderberries for a sweet and delicious syrup.

“The syrup is, as you imagine, a beautiful rich purple color, incredibly delicious on home made pancakes, vanilla ice cream, or in elderberry cream pie!

Elderberry Cream Pie from Wild Edibles

The elderberry is a shrub that we cover in depth at outdoor survival Camp. Elderberries grow in riparian habitats, road banks, meadows, and damp forest openings, up to timberline.

Wild blue elderberry: Sambucus cerulea and S. racemosa range from British Columbia south to California. S. mexicana ranges from northern California south into Mexico and east into Nevada and southwestern New Mexico.  The S. callicarpa species (Pacific red elder) grows in coastal habitats from southern Alaska to central California.

Basic Elderberry Syrup

1 quart blue elderberries
Juice of one lemon
3 cups water
1 tbsp cornstarch or flour
1/4 cup sugar or honey

Crush elderberries, add 1 cup of water and sugar or honey,
and simmer for 15 minutes.  Strain, and then add 2 cups of water
to the seeds and pulp and strain again.
Add to the liquid the lemon juice and adjust sugar if desired.
Bring to a boil and thicken slightly by stirring one-tablespoon cornstarch
or flour in one-tablespoon cold water and stirring this into the simmering syrup.
Makes 5 cups
According to the author of this recipe, “This syrup has few equals when used over pancakes or ice cream.”  I have to agree, completely and happily.

I first began working with this shrub when I lived in the Sierra’s where I discovered the local Mi-Wuk community has used that blue elderberry extensively for many thousands of years as an important part of their material and musical culture.

Warning! Blue elderberry and more so, the red elderberry, contain the compound hyrocyanic acid, a compound that may lead to mild cyanide poisoning if consumed in large quantities uncooked.  The bark leaves, and roots contain the highest concentrations of the acid.  The flower clusters are non-toxic, edible, and medicinal.  If the elder berries are red, do not eat them raw!  They need boiling or drying before consumption!

Cooking or drying removes any toxicity from the blue elderberries, and this is our recommendation before consuming the berries!

A few of the very neat survival applications about the elderberry wood is its soft center pith which can easily be scraped and removed to make a hollow stem.  Straight long shafts of the wood can be made into a serviceable “Blow Gun,” and shorter sections of the wood are split part way and hollowed for clapper stick.  (A musical instrument enjoyed by the Pomo and Mi-Wuk peoples.)

If you are using the elderberry stalks green, you will want to carve off, strip, scrape, and remove all the green bark, and let the wood dry some.  A spindle made from the elderberry is excellent either for the bow drill or hand drill friction fire making process.

If you are a fan of the Man vs. Wild or Born Survivor series with Bear Grylls, Bear made fire in the Sierra episode using a long slender spindle from the wild blue elderberry.

The reason I really wanted to share the blue elderberries many qualities is elderberry cream pie, makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  We have been harvesting the ripe berries this fall.  With great anticipation and delight, we have cooked and reduced the berries in preparation for making elderberry syrup.  The syrup is the main ingredient you must make first before you make the actual elderberry cream pie itself.

We almost did not get a picture of the pie it went so fast.  Oh, and the syrup is, as you imagine, a beautiful rich color, incredibly delicious on home made pancakes, vanilla ice cream, or in elderberry cream pie!  The berries make an outstanding wine.

The berries are important food for, Western blackbird, House Finch, Red-Shafted Flicker, Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Black Headed Grosbeak, Scrub and Steller Jays, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bullock’s and Hooded Oriole, and Phainopepla.  Please leave some berries for the birds.

Remember; positively identify any plant before use, edible, medicinal, or utilitarian application.

Recommended reading:
Edible and Useful Plants of California” by Charlotte Bringle Clarke (Great wild food recipes include the elderberry pie and syrup I am sharing here.)

“Edible and medicinal Plants of the West” By Gregory L. Tifford

Elderberry Cream Pie

3 eggs, separated
2 Tbsp grated orange or lemon peel
3/4 cup elderberry syrup
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup of sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 baked 9-in pie shell.

Blend over heat until smooth:  the egg yolks, elderberry syrup, unflavored gelatin, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt.
Do not boil.  Add grated orange or lemon peel and pour into a bowl; refrigerate until slightly firm.

Do not refrigerate too long, (like overnight), just until it is slightly firm, this does not take very long. Otherwise, you will not be able to blend the whipped cream and meringue with the jelled juice.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and add cream of tarter and 1/4 cup sugar, beating continuously.

Beat heavy cream until fluffy and fold half into the egg-white mixture.
Fold the egg-white mixture into the refrigerated sauce.
Pour into pie shell and garnish with remaining whipped cream.
Serves 6

The Amazing Blue Elderberry, Thank you Charlotte Clarke, for the delicious recipes!


Wilderness Immersion Adult 28 Day Survival Course – California

Adult 28 day wilderness immersion camp with Mark Wienert

Adult 28 Day Wilderness Immersion Survival Training – California

Wilderness immersion is a 28 day survival training course for both men and women 18 years and older.  

This month long immersion course is uniquely tailored for those who have a strong desire to challenge themselves personally, while living and learning in a remote and beautiful back country setting. Wilderness survival, nature awareness, and animal tracking skills are the main focus of this course.

What to Expect

Though we always put in a full day during this course, even on rest days, we offer a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere compared to other schools that offer this type of program. If you want an intense, competitive month long course then we are not what you are looking for.

However, if you are looking for a wilderness survival school with over 19 years of teaching experience, that is supportive and teaches real survival training in a relaxed, supportive, and fun way, then Lifesong Wilderness Adventures is for you.

Even though we run a very relaxed training in many ways, living a primitive lifestyle without modern comforts is  a physically and mentally demanding experience for everyone.

No outdoor experience, no worries. No previous outdoor experience required to attend this camp.If you’re ready to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and are excited to learn and completely immerse yourself in nature, then you will love this exceptional outdoor experience.

Course Locations

Currently both Summer and spring courses are held in northern California near Mt. Shasta.

The summer course is conducted at our primitive field camp simply called High Camp. High camp elevation is about 6,000 ft. This is the same camp location where we run our July wilderness 28 day teen apprenticeship course.

The spring course: camp is held at our Low camp. Low camp – elevation is about 3,400 ft. Each field camp offers unique opportunities to experience nature at its best.

Spectacular view of Mt. Shasta and the surrounding area are earned by hiking the higher ridges and hills of camp. The unique and mixed setting includes both coniferous forest and more open and lush areas with a Montane-type habitat. Conifers include pine, fir, cedar, and juniper. Varied species of native shrub and deciduous trees (including chokecherry, and native birch) provide endless opportunities to study and discover the natural history of a diversity of flora and fauna.

Who Comes to Camp?

The 28 day adult immersion camp is perfect for young adults, both men and women who are interested in having a month long positive outdoor wilderness experience such as this before continuing on to college. But any adult may attend the 28 day immersion camp once your application is accepted and a medical release is completed and signed by your medical practitioner that you are fit to attend.


Camp proper provides a primitive and tranquil atmosphere with two canvas wall tents that combine a cook tent, lecture hall and library. Both tents are equipped with cozy wood stoves for meals and warming during cooler or inclement weather. Additionally, a sixteen-foot tipi creates a spacious work area for general student use. Participants will sleep in nearby tents until survival shelters are constructed.  Shelter designs are crafted by participant’s own hands and ingenuity.


Falcons, eagles, hawks, and ravens make High Camp home. California black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes are the dominant animals we track on this expanse of wild and rugged wilderness. We also explore the lives and habits of other wildlife species including: blacktail deer, grey fox, porcupine, fisher, striped skunk, California grey squirrel, mountain quail, cottontail, to name a few.


A mountain stream fed by snow melt and clear water springs flow through the center of camp. Lined with shrubs, wildflowers, and trees, the creek is a constant and a hub to the rhythm and flow of wilderness living.


Great food makes a great camp! While we learn how ants, scorpions and grubs may give us sustenance (and are heartily welcomed to the dinner menu if needed), there is nothing like delicious camp grub after a long day of survival training. Our menu is carefully planned to provide plenty of nutritionally rich calories to replace the 3,000 to 4,000 calories participants will burn on some days.


Camp meals consist of whole food including: beans, rice vegetables, fruit, grains, breads, nuts, seeds, eggs, and meat. We use a variety of cooking methods at camp such as: underground oven cooking, open pit, hot rock, Dutch oven baking, and other primitive cooking techniques. We will also gather seasonally available wild plants to supplement our menu and for those who choose, we learn how to humanely butcher, safely prepare, smoke, dry, jerk, and cook domestic livestock.

Wild Plants

Plants are an important focus of the adult 28-day immersion curriculum. Wild plants include trees, shrubs, grasses, herbs, lichens and mosses. Many plants are edible and life sustaining, while others are important for fire and shelter making. Most plants have more than one use and can be used extensively for medicinal and utilitarian applications.

The Hunt

Once participants have taken care of basic needs and have provided themselves with the tools for survival, they begin training in animal tracking, nature awareness and the ancient way of the hunt.

Utilizing what nature provides, the class will create and build a variety of primitive yet highly effective hunting tools including at-latl, quick bow, traps and snares. Participants will practice and become proficient in building, setting, and application of their use. These powerful and self-sufficient skills of survival are empowering and available in times of need.

Stalking is a hunting skill that must be mastered to approach and capture shy and elusive quarry. Using a simple camera as a hunting weapon, participants will learn how to stalk, track, and trail wildlife. No game animals will be taken in this course.

Orienteering and Adventure

Empowering wilderness survival skills are accompanied by days and nights filled with walks and hikes, tracking, and observing the wild world around us. Students learn to bivouac overnight using nature’s bounty to provide basic shelter and fire. Compass use, orientation, navigation, and the use of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) are taught along with the art of navigating without modern technology.

Other Lifesong survival courses are held during this time and 28 day Immersion students will also participate in these classes. Immersion students maintain their continuity by their presence at camp for the duration of the month along with camp staff.

In Sum

There is much to see and do each and every day of the “28-day Adult Immersion Course.” In this life-changing adventure you will learn how to meet your most basic survival needs: shelter, water, fire and food. Immersed in the simplicity of primitive living, you will learn to take care of yourself in an environment outside of your normal comfort zone. Through practice, direct experience and skill mastery you will earn the confidence to overcome challenging survival situations.  This confidence will ultimately become your new comfort zone!

Lifesong Adventures 28 DAY Adult Survival Immersion Course

Side Effects?

Beware! Course results may cause: confidence, healthy weight loss, muscle tone and endurance, happiness, smiling faces and spontaneous singing with a twinkle in the eye.

We urge you to attend this once in a lifetime adventure!

Contact Mark Wienert  for questions and an application form.

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