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Research Projects: 
Plants, Soils, Plants and Invasion

It is that time of year again. The mosquitos are back on the floodplain, and so are the flowers on the elderberry plants (Sambucus cerulea). A couple of days ago, I picked as many clusters as I could manage before the mosquito bites became intolerable. We made jam of the berries last fall, but I must admit that the juice from the flowers is my favorite. It is very popular in Europe, especially Scandinavia and Central Europe, but it has yet to be discovered and appreciated in the United States. While the elderberry plant has a number of medicinal properties and may alleviate allergies and improve respiratory health, it is the unique taste that draws me.

Elderberry Flower

Elderflowers on the floodplain on MPG Ranch. Photo: Jeff Clarke

Making the juice, or cordial as it is called, is easy. Because the stems and leaves are toxic, most of those parts should be removed before infusing the flowers in syrup. I highly recommend adding a pinch of citric acid and a couple of cut lemons for flavor and tartness. After a couple of days in the refrigerator, this concentrate can be mixed with water to quench the thirst, or added to gin for a tasty martini. Regardless of which, I store it frozen until I need to be reminded of summer during the long winters of Montana.

Our two interns Mariana Satterly and Tanner Humphries enjoying (non-alcoholic!) elderflower juice. Photo: Ylva Lekberg

About the Author

Ylva Lekberg

Ylva graduated from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences with a M.Sc. in Biology and Horticulture in 1996 and a Ph.D. in Ecology from Penn State University in 2004. She received the Alumni Association Dissertation Award for her work in agroecology and subsistence farming in Sub-Saharan Africa. Post-doctoral positions at Montana State University and later at Copenhagen University as a Marie Curie Fellow have allowed her to explore the role of mycorrhiza, a root-fungus symbiosis, for geothermal plants in Yellowstone National Park and coastal grasslands in Denmark. Her research has been published in journals such as Ecology, Journal of Ecology and New Phytologist.

Ylva currently works at MPG Ranch as a soil ecologist. She explores the role of mycorrhiza in the success of exotic plants and examines the use of specific pathogens to combat invasions. In her spare time Ylva mountain-bikes, plays soccer, and maintains a large vegetable garden.