Monday, November 28, 2011

Blue Elderberry

My supervisor- a resource specialist here at Cascadia- and I were out doing field work along the Entiat River a few weeks back, and we came across a segment of native streamside vegetation (also known as riparian vegetation, see the previous "Getting Youth Involved" post for a thorough explanation), particularly abundant in blue elderberry.  We marveled at the large clusters of blue fruit, still hanging heavily from the branches even though most of their leaves had already fallen.  Not only were they visually striking against the fall foliage of other native plants (most notably the soft reds and oranges of black hawthorn leaves), but they looked delicious!

After our conversation, I wanted to learn more about blue elderberry. Here we are with this native shrub right at our fingertips, and many of us have no idea about the ecological, cultural, culinary or medicinal benefits. Here's some information that I found interesting:
  • Common Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is found all over the temperate to sub-tropical latitudes of the northern hemisphere, as well as in parts of South America, and Australasia.  Its native range is hard to determine, as the plant has been cultivated since the Middle Ages.
  • Our local subspecies, Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea), ranges from southern British Columbia down to northwestern Mexico, and as far east as western Montana, Colorado, and Texas (Crane 1989).  
  • Historically, native tribes called the elderberry the "Tree of Music."  They made flutes and whistles from the naturally hollow branches (Austin 2001). Branches were also used to make arrow shafts.
  • Hollow elderberry stems can be used to make pollinating bee nesting structures. For more information visit and have fun exploring several "build your own pollinator nesting site" guides.  Do your part to help native pollinator species and up the pollination rate in your garden in return!
  • Elderberry branches can also be made into squirt guns (USDA 2001). Look out!
  •  The bark, stems, leaves, and flowers can all be ground into a poultice (mixed with chamomile) that will reduce joint stiffness/inflammation and swelling from bee stings (USDA 2001).
  • Blue elderberries are edible when ripe and cooked and make delectable jams, jellies, wine, and pies.  Lots of recipes can be found online!
  • Blue elderberry just happens to be one of the plants Cascadia is offering in our 2012 Native Plant Sale!  Visit our website to find the plant sale order form and brochure or take a look at our Cascadia Quarterly Fall 2011 newsletter for more details on this and other available plants.

The flowers from this elderberry species are often used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Elderflowers contain flavenoids and rutin, compounds that work with Vitamin C to support the immune system (USDA 2001).  A deliciously fragrant elderflower tea can be made from either fresh or dried flowers (and in conjunction with yarrow, chamomile, echinacea, or several other herbs) to treat hay fever, cold and flu symptoms (Vertolli 2009).

Elderflower is a popular flavor in many    European countries.  During my travels in New Zealand, I noticed  Elderflower-flavored sodas and yogurt were common on grocery store shelves (and were very tasty!). 

According to a friend who is a New Zealand native, many people of her generation grew up with an "elder tree” in their yard, and enjoyed home-made elderflower cordial (a soft-drink) as a summertime treat.  She gave me her recipe, and I did try to make it the summer following my travels.  My first attempt did not turn out as I would've liked, mostly due to the type of yeast I had to add (ideally, the wild yeasts occurring on the flowers would be all you need). It's definitely worth a try!

Here’s the recipe, file it away for next summer, harvest some elderflower blossoms, and enjoy!

Elderflower Cordial  
(From of Stone Circle Farm, Amberley, New Zealand)

Ohio State Weed Lab Archive,
The Ohio State University,


20 elderflower heads
5 cups white sugar
2 lemons (juice and zest)
10 liters water (about 2.5 gallons or 40 cups)
2 tablespoons vinegar
(If required) 1 tablespoon bakers yeast dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm water

Gathering elderflowers- harvest in late spring to early summer when flower heads are in full bloom.  Elderflowers should be gathered when the sun is shining.  Shake off insects, but do not rinse as the natural yeast present is necessary for fermentation.

Boil 2 liters (.5 gallons or 8 cups) water and dissolve sugar. Add remaining 8 liters (2 gallons or 32 cups) cold water.  Add lemon juice and zest.  Add elderflower heads and vinegar.  Stir gently.  Cover with muslin or tea towel and set aside for 24 hours, stirring every 6 or so hours.  After 24 hours, if it’s not starting to bubble, add yeast mixture. Set aside for a further five days, stirring occasionally.  Strain through muslin, cheesecloth, or a fine-mesh colander and into bottles with screw tops.  Leave for 8 days, checking the bottles and letting out excess gas.  Chill and enjoy! 

Thanks for reading!

Your friend in conservation,

Austin, Miriam. “Plants in Peril: Hard Times for Blue Elderberries” Watersheds Messenger. Vol. VIII, No. 3. Fall 2001. Western Watershed Project. 4 November 2011. <

Crane, M. F. "Sambucus nigra subsp. cerulea." Fire Effects Information System. 1989.  U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.  4 November 2011

Kabuce, N. and Priede, N. "NOBANIS– Invasive Alien Species Fact Sheet– Sambucus nigra." 12 December 2010. Online Database of the North European and Baltic Network on Invasive Alien Species.  9 November 2011
Stevens, Michelle. “Blue Elderberry.” USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Plants Database. April 2001. USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center and The Biota of North America Program.  4 November 2011

Vertolli, Michael, R.H. “Suffering From Summer Allergies? Elder Flower to the Rescue.” Vitality Magazine. June 2009. 4 November 2011 <>.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been taken to ensure that information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.  The information found on this website is provided as suggestion only, and we cannot guarantee that favorable results will be obtained from its use.  It is the sole responsibility of visitors to this site to positively identify their own plant species to use at their discretion.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Landowner Assistance Program

A hedgerow, planted to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Congratulations to Jerry and Junell Wentz who just received the Wildlife Steward of the Year award!

They were chosen for nomination because they have enthusiastically installed numerous projects on their commercial farm that enhance wildlife habitat. Read on to find out about the projects they have done!

In 2005, Junell and Jerry began working with Cascadia Conservation District through our Landowner Assistance Program.  They received partial funding for the installation of a new, more efficient micro-irrigation system for their cherry orchard. This initial project was a great success as erosion on their property nearly disappeared and managing irrigation became much easier.
 A barn owl nesting box.
In 2008, the Wentzes started working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Cascadia’s partner agency, to begin managing and addressing other natural resource concerns they had on their farm. They received funding for soil testing and nutrient management, an integrated pest management plan, soil moisture monitoring, and an insect-attracting hedgerow.  Nesting boxes and perching poles that were erected have so far hosted kestrels and red-tailed hawks.  Beneficial insects have found new habitat in the two hedgerows planted with native, drought-tolerant plant species. Bats and native mason bees also have structures waiting for them to move in.

Introduced barn owls help control rodent populations.

In 2011 Jerry and Junell agreed to release several baby barn owls on their farm with hopes that they would make use of the nesting structures. The owlets were rescued from hay stacks in George where they were displaced when the stacks were moved after sitting over the winter. The Wentzes placed feeder mice around their farm for the first few weeks to help the owlets learn to hunt and to help them feel comfortable in their new home. Jerry and Junell reported seeing the owls often early on and have continued to see signs of them living in a nearby spruce tree.

The Wentzes went above and beyond the programs’ expectations.  Junell wrote to more than fifty neighbors, sharing what she has learned about alternative rodenticides, and urging them to adopt similar practices that are less harmful to birds and other wildlife.  Junell and Jerry put in many hours of hard work researching, building structures, planting hedgerows, and monitoring wildlife.  In return, they can now enjoy living and working with and as part of a more balanced ecosystem.  Inviting back natural predators of mice and cherry-eating birds and bringing in pollinators and other “good” insects has had a positive impact on the overall health of their orchard.

Because of their dedication, Cascadia nominated Jerry and Junell as Wildlife Stewards of the Year within our district boundary and that nomination entered them into a statewide ranking process. They
were also chosen as Wildlife Stewards of the Year for the entire state!

Mason bee nesting structures (left) and bat boxes (right).
“Lots of farmers aren’t willing to take the risk, but I hope to bring
awareness to fellow farmers through my success with the bird boxes and
hedgerow… Because I got help through these programs it detracted worry from finances and I didn’t feel like I was going at it alone. I learned a lot and got great support.”   
–Junell Wentz

Cascadia’s Landowner Assistance Program provides a way for landowners and leasees to get technical and, in many cases, financial assistance to start or continue managing natural resources on their land. 

Check out our Landowner Assistance Program Handout for additional information.

Please call us at (509) 664-9370 if you are interested or would like to learn more!  

For more information and application forms for this and other awards, visit the Washington Association of Conservation District's website,

Your friend in conservation,

Monday, November 7, 2011

Riparian Restoration Project with Icicle River Middle School: This Just In!

This video was just sent to us from the Fishburnes, hosts of our Chumstick Creek restoration project with IRMS 8th graders!
(For more details, see the previous blog post "Getting Youth Involved").

I believe these are coho salmon, due to the historic data (Chumstick creek used to host an abundance of coho) and also due to the light lower gumline seen on the most brightly colored salmon. If I'm wrong, please do correct me!

Very cool!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Getting Youth Involved

We’ve been busy and have been having lots of fun this fall!

Wenatchee River Salmon Festival

Cascadia headed up to Leavenworth, WA, during the last days of September to take part in “Salmonfest,” an annual celebration marking the return of the salmon to our rivers and streams. 

Students take part in Rolling Rivers, an interactive
watershed model.

During the two schooldays of Salmonfest, 3rd and 4th grade classes came from all over north central Washington to learn about the cultural, economic, and environmental significance of Pacific salmon.  Cascadia ran the Rolling Rivers watershed model, which is essentially a large sandbox with two outflows (“headwaters”) at one end and a drain (“the ocean”) at the other.  Water flows from the headwaters down to the ocean, carving out channels and responding in a variety of ways as objects are added or taken out of the system, much like real rivers.

Students learned that watersheds are all the land in an area that drains into the same water body (see diagram, right) and demonstrated good and bad land use practices- in terms of stream/fish health and water quality- by designing two watersheds to reflect those factors.  The ultimate test came at the end, when the two teams had a salmon rely race. They attempted to be the first to “run” their “salmon” (a small fish-y figurine) upstream to the spawning grounds, problem-solving their way around dams, culverts and other fish passage barriers in their rivers, as well as dodging potential predators as represented by heron, sheepdog, and Godzilla figurines.

Building healthy watersheds in the Rolling Rivers display.

On the weekend, the event is open to the public, and people from across the state and of all ages and backgrounds came to learn and play at the Rolling Rivers display.  I got a kick out of the fact that Rolling Rivers really does offer something for everyone!

Thank you to our partners at this event:

Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group
Chelan County Natural Resources Department
Trout Unlimited- Washington Water Project
Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board
Yakama Nations Fisheries

Riparian Restoration Project with Icicle River Middle School

Pulling invasive vines off of native vegetation.

This October, local landowners, Icicle River Middle School (IRMS), and Cascadia joined forces for a riparian clean-up and restoration project near Leavenworth, WA. 

Riparian zones are the areas of land around streams, lakes, etc. that are directly influenced AND directly influence the adjacent water body (see diagram, below).

John and Wendy Fishburne own a beautiful piece of property along Chumstick Creek, a historic salmon stream.  After a public works project in 2009 that replaced the large culvert (a major fish passage barrier) with a bridge at North Road, and several projects in the last decade (implemented by Cascadia and Chelan County Natural Resources Department) that replaced upstream culverts with bridges, there is a much greater possibility that the stream will again support healthy salmon populations. (For more info, visit the Chelan County Natural Resources Department website at

WCC crew teaches students how to dig out Himalayan
Blackberry "hubs" (taproots).
The Fishburnes have been working with Cascadia since 2008 to devise a management plan for their section of riparian area and the adjacent hillside on their property. The Old Chumstick Hwy (now an overgrown footpath) cuts right through the project site, and there were still significant remains of the consequent dump site. From the beginning, the Fishburnes envisioned this restoration project as a learning opportunity for local youth, and this fall we were able to make that wish a reality!

Student with his find, unearthed out of a historic garbage cache.

Through Hana Butler at the WSU Chelan County Extension office, Cascadia connected with Jodie Tremberth, the 8th grade science teacher at Icicle River Middle School in Leavenworth. We worked together to coordinate a two-part implementation scheme that would get the 8th graders out to do some good work, enjoy the fall sunshine, and learn a bit about conservation in the process.

Bagfuls of invasive weeds were hauled out of the
 project site.
During the two-day clean-up event, over one-hundred 8th graders from IRMS removed old garbage caches from the hillside, learned how to dig out invasive Himalayan blackberry roots with the help of the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) crew, and hauled bags of invasive weeds out of the project site.  Perhaps the most exciting find was a several-hundred-pound engine part a group of students and teachers managed to drag up the hillside and into the awaiting dumpster.

A planting team takes a break amongst newly planted native
trees and shrubs.
Students returned to the site the following week to plant native vegetation. They worked in groups to plant a variety of native trees and shrubs, staked weed matting over the ground around each plant to keep competition with weeds to a minimum, and covered smaller plants with browse guards to prevent excessive grazing by deer and other wildlife.

Over the two-week period, the students learned about the importance of riparian areas for fish and overall stream health.  Positive riparian effects include bank stabilization for decreased erosion, shade for cooling water temperatures, and filtration of pollutants by root systems resulting in improved water quality.
We had beautiful fall weather for all the field days, and other than a few run-ins with ornery stinging insects, we had a blast!  It was really rewarding to overhear the students say things like, “This is the best field trip ever” and, “I want to do this for a living!”

The students plan on returning to the Fishburnes’ to help Cascadia with monitoring the success and progress of the planting site.
We are looking forward to it!

Students worked in teams to drag invasive weeds
 and debris to the dumpster.

Thank you to:

John and Wendy Fishburne
Washington Conservation Corps crew led by Jake Hanson
Icicle River Middle School Principal Kenny Renner-Singer
Icicle River Middle School “8th Grade Team”- Matt Duffy, Todd Gilbert, Jodie Tremberth, and Beau Snow
Dave Holland, Department of Ecology
Kevin Powers and Hana Butler, WSU Chelan County Extension

And a big thank you to the Icicle River Middle School 8th graders for their hard work and enthusiasm!