How to Make Elderberry Wine

How to Make Elderberry Wine @ Common Sense Homesteading

How to make elderberry wine – it’s something I’ve wondered about since watching Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail many years ago.  :-)  (“Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.”)

Now that I’ve gotten into wildcrafting and learned that elderberries are loaded with antioxidants (they’ve made it into the superfood category), I thought wine would be a great way to use the abundance of local elderberries. (I’ll also be making more jellies and syrups this year, too.)  The wine isn’t done yet, but people have been asking for the recipes, so I thought I’d share my experience to date.

How to Find Elderberries

Elderberries like moist soil, so you’ll find them in ditches, along the edges of wet woodlands, near lakes and rivers, and other damp ground.  They are native to North America, and can be found throughout most of the US and Eastern Canada, except for in the northwest (see USDA elderberry range map).

We went foraging for elderberries along country roads here in northeast Wisconsin.  My friends had scouted out the area in previous years, so they knew where to start looking.  The plants don’t look very showy, but you can watch for the clumps of berries near the top.  Here’s an elderberry patch we spotted on the side of the road.

elderberry patch

roadside elderberry patch

Be careful to make sure you have a positive identification.  Elderberry is sometimes confused with water hemlock, inkberry, or pokeberry, but if you look closely, these plants are quite different.

You can see the elderberry berries are the top of the post.  They grow in clusters that stick out above the foliage.  If you look closely at the photo above (click on it to enlarge), you can see dark blobs in the shrubs.  Elderberry leaves on soft green stems in pairs.

elderberry leaves

elderberry leaves

Alternatively, if you can’t find elderberries in the wild, some folks are now raising them for sale (but you normally have to buy in quantity, unless you can find them locally).  Elderberry Life will ship a minimum order of 25 pounds of elderberries.  You either need to make a lot of elderberry products, are share with friends.

Berries are most easily harvested by snipping off the clumps and gathering them in a bucket.  They will stain if smashed, so trying to strip off individual berries is asking for a mess.  I like to tie a bucket around my waist and wade right in.

Laurie picking elderberries

In the middle of an elderberry thicket

How to Clean and Process Elderberries

Once you have enough berries, they should be stripped from the stems before making the wine.  A few stems is fine, but you don’t want a lot of them because they contain cyanide-inducing glycoside (a glycoside which gives rise to cyanide as the metabolism processes it). They are also very sticky – like glue – and will coat your hands and your fermenting vessels.  They’re bitter, too.  A few bugs tend to hitch rides in the bucket as well, and you don’t want them in the wine.  :-)

The boys preferred to comb the berries of the stems with a wide-toothed comb, I just used my hands.  Some site suggest freezing first to make them easier to strip, but this worked fine with the modest amount we had (about two five gallon buckets full).

cleaning elderberries

Cleaning elderberries

I put the finished berries in my over the sink strainer and gave them a rinse before starting the wine.

How to Make Elderberry Wine – 2 Recipes

Both of these recipes are from the book “How to Make Wine in Your Own Kitchen“, which is out of print but worth tracking down.

Elderberry Wine (Sun Extraction Method)


  • 4 quarts loosely packed elderberries (be sure they are dark ripe)
  • 2 quarts boiling water
  • 6 cups cane sugar
  • 1 cup of chopped muscat raisins (I just used standard dark raisins)

This recipe is made in stages.  In stage one, you steep the elderberries in water, in stage two, you add the sugar and raisins.

Remove elderberries from stems and pack in a gallon glass jar (the type you can buy bulk pickles and olives in).  Bring two quarts of water to a boil.  Make sure your jar is warm (you can set it in a tub of warm water) to prevent breakage.  Pour the boiling water over the elderberries.  Leave a healthy inch of space at the top, because they will swell and expand.

Make a plastic liner for the metal cover (not sure how you could avoid this if you want to avoid plastic, other than using a much bigger container).  Put the cover on loosely (enough to keep the bugs out, but loose enough that it can vent).  Set in a sunny place outside for three days.  The liquid should be bright red in color.

I set mine in a sunny window, then out on the deck in various spots, and then brought it inside at night.  We have a groundhog that’s been visiting the deck at night, at I didn’t want it getting in the hooch.

elderberry wine @ Common Sense Homesteading

Elderberry wine in the making, sitting in the sun

After three days, strain the berries through a jelly bag (I used a flour sack towel), squeezing out as much of the liquid as possible.  Pour juice back into the glass jar (I moved mine to my 1 gallon crock).  Stir in the sugar, making sure it is all dissolved.  Add chopped raisins.  Cover loosely and keep in a warm place indoors to continue fermentation for three more weeks.

You’ll note that this recipe has no added yeast.  This made me a little nervous, since wild yeast can be less reliable.  Mine didn’t start bubbling right away, but I cheated a bit and used the same spoon to stir both batches of wine.  (The other recipe has commercial wine yeast.)  This got the fermentation going.  If you don’t see bubbles within a couple of days, it’s probably safer to add commercial yeast so your wine doesn’t go “off”.

At the end of this time period, strain through several layers of cheesecloth ( a flour sack towel or old cotton t-shirt will also work).  Siphon into clean, sterilized bottles. (See How to Clean and Sterilize Bottles and How to Siphon Wine.)

Cork lightly at first (or put a balloon over the top).  When your balloon doesn’t inflate or you see no bubbles on the bottle walls, cork tightly and store on its side.  Seal with wax for longer storage.  Keep for at least one year before drinking.

Heavy Elderberry wine

  • 4 quarts of loosely packed elderberries
  • 4 quarts of water
  • 8 cups of cane sugar
  • 2 cups of muscat raisin, finely chopped
  • 3 shredded wheat biscuits or 1 cup Wheat Chex – OR – 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient (to aid fermentation)
  • 1 package of dry granulated yeast, or one package wine yeast

Place elderberries in a large stockpot with 4 quarts of water.  Boil for 30 minutes.  Let cool to lukewarm.

elderberries in stockpot

Elderberries and water cooking on the stove

Strain elderberries through a jelly bag or flour sack towel, squeezing until the pulp is very dry.  Note:  this will coat the towel with blue/brown sticky “ick” that is very hard to remove.  I’ve washed mine twice and it’s still tacky.

draining elderberries

Straining the elderberries

elderberries - squeezed dry

Elderberries – squeezed dry

Pour the juice into a crock or large canner kettle.  (I used my 3 gallon crock for a double batch.)  Stir in the sugar, making sure it is all dissolved.  Add the finely chopped raisins.  Break the shredded wheat over the surface; or, if using Wheat Chex, sprinkle whole over the surface. Note:  If you are gluten sensitive, you may wish to substitute two teaspoons of yeast nutrient for the wheat products.

Distribute the dry yeast over the surface.

yeast on elderberry wine

Yeast sprinkled on top of the elderberry juice

Cover with a flour sack towel and put in a warm place to ferment for three weeks.  I keep the towel secured with an old hair band to keep fruit flies out.  (They love wine.)  Stir gently twice a week.

At the end of this period, strain through several thicknesses of cheesecloth.  Return to kettle or crock to settle for two days more.  Siphon off into clean, sterilized bottles and cork lightly (or cover opening with a balloon.  When fermentation has ceased, cork tightly and seal with paraffin if desired.  Store for at least one year before drinking.

I’m still in the initial fermenting stage right now, since we just went picking a week ago, but the wine smells lovely.  Heating the elderberries really brings out the berry scent, and once the yeast kicks into action it fills the kitchen with earthy, yeasty goodness.  To me it smells like abundance.  If I have enough fruit to ferment, it’s been a bountiful year.  I’m not much of a drinker, but it’s nice to have the option to share a special brew with friends and family, and so far my results have been pretty good.

If you’re interested in wine making, you may also enjoy:

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  1. Heather K says

    Oh my goodness! Thank you for the trip down memory lane! My father made both elderberry and dandelion wines when I was young! We picked wild rose hips, too, I think for jam. I remember having tastes of the elderberry wine when I was about 8. Thanks for the post!

      • Heather K says

        Can you use this same recipe for the blackberry wine??? I’m not sure we have elderberries readily available in SC. When I was young they were all over the place in upstate NY. :0)

        • says

          Here are a couple of recipes for “Any Fruit” wine, shared by Sondra on Facebook:

          Wine-makes 1 gallon

          1lb fruit-any kind rinse off dirt, don’t scrub, mash just a little to get juices flowing. (We have added more fruit each batch for a more fruity flavor)
          4 c. sugar
          3 qts. hot (not boiling) water
          1/8t. yeast-you can use baking yeast but brewer’s yeast is better

          You will need a gallon jug, a big balloon (condoms work great, don’t laugh!)

          Put sugar & 1-2 qts of water in jug. shake to mostly dissolve, add fruit, yeast & rest of water, give a good shake. Top jug with balloon and tape down. Set in warm, but not hot, place where it will not be disturbed. Let balloon expand & deflate. Strain well, bottle.
          Be careful to keep an eye on this, you may have to replace balloon once or twice, they have busted on me before and you do not want air or fruit flies to get to it.
          I do not like to add additives to our wine, this is a very dry wine. I like mine sweeter but then I would have to add something to stop fermentation (can’t remember what it is called)

          Old wine recipe

          You will need a large stone crock & either cheesecloth or a large towel to cover just to keep the bugs out.

          1 gallon of water
          1 gallon of fruit (3-4 lb. to the gallon)
          Start out with 3 lbs. of sugar (it wouldn’t hurt to add 4 obs. if you like it sweeter) Extra sugar will make it stronger

          Put all in stone jar/crock & set out in the sun for no longer than one week, if that long. Be sure to cover with a cloth to keep bugs out. Cover with a lid in case of rain.

          Stir everyday, tasting as you go. Strain & bottle when done.

          I haven’t tried these, but the wines I have made have been pretty forgiving.

          • Chris says

            I would like to try this with the abundance of sour cherries I get each year from my tree. As we are right in the middle of winter here in Canada, the cherries are in my freezer. Is it possible to use them to make wine or is fresh fruit the best option? Thanks!!

          • Chris says

            I have an abundance of sour cherries every year. As we are right in the middle of winter here in Canada, they are all in my freezer, can I use them to try this recipe or would you recommend using fresh fruit?

      • Mahlon says

        Just a few questions I have,
        For the 1gal receipe that sits in the sun for 3days can I use wine yeast instead of raisens, and how much should I use?
        Also can I skip the wheat products or wheat yeast and still have a good wine?

        • says

          Don’t skip the raisins. They are critical for the flavor development of the wine. As mentioned in the post, if you are avoiding wheat, you may substitute yeast nutrient. If you are using a wine or champagne yeast, there should be no wheat yeast involved.

  2. says

    Thanks so much for posting the recipe I have looked all over for this kind of recipe. I remember my Dad trying to make wine or beer out of raisins when I was a little girl. I don’t know how it turned out but I did love the smell. Thanks again. Lana

  3. Ed says

    Love the sound of these but I am trying to find a water and sugar ratio for making elderberry wine out of 16 oz. of Elderberry Extract. Do you have any tips for this? Thanks

    • says

      I was looking for something similar myself for making wine from berries that had been juiced. I didn’t have much luck, but when I asked the owner of a local home brewing shop, he suggested cutting the sugar by 10% and using roughly the same volume. I ended up turning my juice into jelly and making wine out of fresh berries.

    • says

      I don’t think there’s any easy way to convert for dried berries, since it’s the juice you’re looking for to make the wine. You could try a simple grape juice wine and add the dried elderberries to the brew to bump up the flavor and medicinal properties.

  4. says

    Holy smokes, Laurie! You really got it going on here, don’t you? I think I will start with this one because we have TONS of elderberry down on our land. You may be hearing from me with questions! Thanks, again!

  5. Scottie Jay says

    HI Laurie
    Interesting story on making elderberry wine. How about a followup on how each batch turned out? Recipe preferences? What would you do different? Scale up issues? Why the year wait? Most wines are drinkable at about 6-8 months. I noticed in the story you indicated NE wisconsin. N S E or W of GB? Have you made any elderberry wine since 2012?


    • says

      Hi Scottie. I should get around to an update, but the posts get only a small amount of traffic, so it hasn’t been at the top of my to-do list. As for how they turned out – both are good, and make a sweet wine with quite a bit of kick. I think the sun extraction method had a higher alcohol content and the heavy wine was sweeter. We just opened a bottle of the sun extraction batch for solstice.

      A year wait was suggested by the original recipe, and since we don’t drink much wine, I’m generally in no rush and prefer to let my wine age a year or two.

      I haven’t made elderberry wine since 2012. We picked so many in 2012 that we are still working to use up all the juice in storage. Next season we will probably go again.

      I haven’t attempted to scale up, because my equipment is sized best for smaller batches, and as I mentioned, we don’t drink much wine.

      I live between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, but went picking west of Green Bay with friends.

  6. Alica says

    Sweet and yummy. Now that’s definitely a good description for a wine. At least it’s something I can tolerate. Thanks for the great ideas.

  7. Kimberly says

    Spray or wipe anything that is left with the green sticky residue from elderberries with cooking oil and then wash. It will come right off.

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