Like kudzu, all parts of elderberry plants are useful, but the tiny berries are a pain to pick.
Picking them one at a time won’t work; most will fall to the ground. You need plastic grocery bags.
Cover the bunch of berries with a bag, bend the stem over to catch berries that jiggle off, then break the stem.
Freeze the bagged elderberries until they are hard, close up the bag and throw it on the floor. Most of the stems should snap off. Put the frozen berries in a pan of water and the berries will sink but the broken stems float. After this, you can figure it out yourself.
Elderberries make great jam, but my grandmother’s neighbor Katie Jackson and her mother Babe Madden were known for their elderberry wine.
In the valley west of Taylor’s Ridge, they were famous, but they suddenly stopped making wine and that was that. They said it was the water: their well was deep and held sweet and cold water.
Dry weather nearly wiped out wild blackberries, but blackberry leaves are useful.
Pick new tender leaves early in the day. Spread them out on a newspaper inside to dry.
Once dried, store them in a paper bag not a zipper bag. You can’t remove all the moisture, and they will rot. I’ve already tried zipper bags.
A hand full of leaves in a non-metal pot should steep for an hour or longer. This isn’t instant tea but a labor of love. The leaves are free and abundant so go play with it.
After our chat on uses of kudzu, an Alabama reader emailed that his daughter awoke one morning and discovered she could not live in her neighborhood anymore.
The newest neighbors didn’t keep up their houses and those who bought homes with backyard pools “let them go” until they became swamps. Now the windows nearly vibrate with the bellow of bull frogs and people can’t go outside because of mosquitoes.
The new neighbors seem to think someone else will come along and fix things for them.
When Sharon and her husband knew they had a buyer for their home, she went around planting plugs of kudzu in the least visible areas of disagreeable neighbor’s yards.
“It will take time,” she said, but she looks forward to driving through in a year or so.
That reminds me of the story of the guy who burned down his swimming pool, but we’ll get to that another day.
New tender kudzu leaves can be cooked like turnip greens, and make sure you are not picking leaves that have already made somebody mad. They might have been sprayed.
Kudzu blooms in August, and the flowers spritz late evening air with a light grape scent. The flowers are useful for making jelly.
I keep a few jars of kudzu jelly around to puzzle non-believers.
Don’t forget bug spray or dab kerosene around your ankles and enjoy picking what’s left.
Iced sassafras tea is wonderful in hot weather,and now you can identify the saplings by their leaves. Hang some yarn on others, so you’ll know what they are this winter.
Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, a former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.