Every year I am just blown away by the elderberries growing in the wild. They are so beautiful! Harvest is absolutely my favorite and most cherished experience of the year, every year. I go out into the Cascade mountains with my fabulous small crew and we harvest away from dawn to dusk, processing berries deep into the night. We never know what we are going to find and are so grateful for the opportunities that arise. We work hard hand selecting only the best berries amidst the clusters. What we leave are the bird eaten, lived in by bug families, or otherwise compromised berries, and berries saved for later consumption by creatures big and small.
The magic each year continues. I wake up and practice the art of no expectation and full trust in the synergy of events. It is the most “in-the-flow” and grateful I feel all year long. The harvest resets my belief in synchronicity, blessings, and mindfulness/present moment practices. It’s an invitation to trust in nature, be inspired with nature, and to come alive with all six senses year after year. How else could we go to the same regions and continue to find new plants and new orchards? You must stay open, keep your eyes peeled, and pay attention.
This season we had fire smoke to contend with. A few days we ended up sitting it out while the PM2.5 air particles were over 200ppm some days. Luckily, a huge 12-hour long rain cleared the air for us. It was a huge relief after working in the smoke. Being in the mountains under the blue skies felt even more special.
A couple more stories for you: The Self-proclaimed “Queen of the Quail” and Llamas Tending the Elderberry Orchard
Every year we bring medicine to land holders who allow us to harvest elderberries from their land. Judy, one of these land owners, gets so excited when we come because she loves our elderberry extracts for her aging joints. Her neighbor, however, didn’t want anything to do our medicine gifts. She wanted us to harvest berries for her to freeze in her large freezer and feed to her multiple Quail families during the snowy winters. She calls herself the “Queen of the Quail” and has multiple families nesting on her land. Elderberry is a real treasure chest of multiple uses: key pollinator and riparian habitat plant, food, medicine, dyes. But hand-picked food for the Quail Queen is one of my favorite uses. When we go out into the world and meet new people, I am reminded that most people are kind, love to say “Hi!” to us, and are happy to support the cause. It actually renews my belief in humanity to meet so many humans I wouldn’t otherwise, and be impressed by their kindness and love of quail.
The second story of the season came from the most superb wild farm of elderberries I’ve ever seen. As usual, we were cruising out in the middle of nowhere. We pass an old fence and behind it, rows and rows and rows of the most elderberry I’ve ever seen clustered together with almost no understory and no other plants inside this fence. It was gorgeous! Lucky us, we got permission to harvest from this amazing orchard. We found a man named John who was willing to let us harvest elderberries as long as we harvested him some buckets. Turns out this orchard had been gingerly cared for by llamas! John had inherited the llamas from a friend after finding out they’ll eat everything except elderberries. The “primordial” orchard was planted by an unknown source, it could have been indigenous people, birds, or overflowing seed filled streams nearby. Whatever the true cause of the numerous healthy, 15 to 20 foot tall elderberry plants, we don’t know. But walking through this place was like walking through my home, my church, my happy place, all at once. That’s all I want to do -- to inspire, and to see this drought tolerant, resilient, magnificent and beautiful elderberry growing in orchards all up and down the west coast. John said he turned the sprinkler on them a few times this summer – a few times! That’s it! They had abundant berries because of it. Many blessings to you Elder John!
I hope that you too will discover the invitation to come alive through witnessing all the beauty nature offers us through growing and tending to elderberries. We will continue to plant wild elderberries as well as increase elderberries in orchard settings, and we want to encourage you to stay tuned for more online classes and the annual early spring Elderberry Plant Sale.
Getting to nurture this relationship with elderberries, the seasons, growing abundant health boosting and key pollinator plants is a real dream for us at Dr. Appleseed’s Elderberry.