One of the most frustrating things about trying to harvest elderberries I've found is that the birds get to the berries before I do! I have several spots where I pick some of the elder flowers and then wait anxiously for the berries and then for them to ripen and then all hope is dashed when they are suddenly gone.
So I decided last year that I would plant my own elderberry in a new garden spot where I would try to keep the birds away. So far it has worked and I picked the first of the berries today.
So how do you harvest elderberry? Harvest ripened berries in August or September, they seem very early this year. Ripened berries are purple or dark red, don't pick them when they are still green. Clip the entire berry head on the stem right below the berries.
The berries need to be kept cool. Strip them off the stem and place in the refrigerator. The stems contain a gluey substance so you don't want stems in whatever you are making. Removing the stems can be a very time consuming process. Some people use a fork or comb, others freeze the berries first and the stems fall off - you will need to find what works best for you. I do it the old fashioned way and just pluck them off. Be careful not to crush the berries and lose the juice however.
Keep the berries refrigerated and use immediately or the berries can be dried or frozen for future use. Uncooked berries have a dark purple juice and are inedible and astringent - make sure to cook the elderberries before you ingest them.
My favorite use of elderberries is to make elderberry syrup, and if I can get enough berries this year I want to try making some elderberry jam. Elder wine is a popular use also. What are your favorite uses of elderberries?