While we are still enjoying long, sun-filled days and super hot weather, I can’t help but start thinking about Fall and the changing of the seasons. August is a great time to start harvesting from our gardens and wild places to preserve food and medicines for the winter months. So, let’s talk about the luscious and powerful Elderberry: Sambucus nigra. From the Elder tree, elderberries are purplish-black juicy berries (see image above) that are known for their immune system-boosting properties. *Please note that there is a related form of elder, Sambucus racemosa, with red berries. These have been known to cause vomiting when eaten raw, so avoid them!*
The tree itself has a long history of its own. Common in the English countryside, the wood of the Elder tree was used for instruments as far back as Anglo-Saxon times and children’s homemade pop-guns in the more recent past. Legend tells of a wise woman, Elda Mor, who lives in Elder trees and offers healing to those who ask for it, providing they offer her proper respect (it is recommend to always offer thanks to the plants for the healing they give us!). The Elder tree has also made a name for itself in the writings of Shakespeare, among others, though often as a sad symbol of grief and death. But despair not, my friends, for the berry is a whole other story.
Elderberries contain wonderful properties for health and healing. The berries and flowers have been used for centuries to make homemade wine and cordials (go to town home brewers), and even hair dye. Medicinally, the bark, flower, leaves and berries can all be used.
The berries have been attributed many properties over the centuries with claims to effectiveness against rheumatism and epilepsy and as a laxative.
Today, the berries are commonly prepared as a tea or tincture. They have a pleasant citrus flavor and are less bitter dried than fresh.
Extensive research shows that elder stop the production of hormone-like cytokines that direct a class of white blood cells known as neutrophils to cause inflammation, especially in influenza and arthritis. (Translation – the berries help your body to stop inflammation causing achiness in flu and arthritis). On the other hand, elder increases the production of non-inflammatory infection-fighting cytokines as much as 10-fold. Elderberries are known to be effective against eight strains of influenza. This suggests that elder could be superior to vaccines in preventing flu, because flu vaccines are only effective against known strains of flu, whereas the virus is continually mutating to new strains. Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, of Hadassah-Hebrew University in Israel, found that elderberry disarms the enzyme viruses used to penetrate healthy cells in the lining of the nose and throat. Taken before infection, it prevents infection. Taken after infection, it prevents spread of the virus through the respiratory tract. In a clinical trial, 20% of study subjects reported significant improvement within 24 hours, 70% by 48 hours, and 90% claimed complete cure in three days. In contrast, subjects receiving the placebo required 6 days to recover.
In addition, Elderberries have no known contra-indications, though excessive use has been known to cause nausea or vomiting in some cases.
Now that we know the amazing health benefits of the lovely elderberries, let’s talk about harvesting, preserving, and using them throughout the winter months, when flu season is upon us.
Elderberries ripen towards the end of August and early September, so now is the time to locate wild Elder trees if you don’t have them in your yard. Collect the ripened berries, which will be a rich black to purplish color, and will fall easily off the stem when fully ripe.
There are MANY things to make with elderberries, from jams to pies to syrups, so I encourage you to research recipes that most appeal to you! Two simple ways that I love to use the berries for medicinal purposes are drying and using them in teas, and making a basic preventative tonic to keep my immune system strong.
To use elderberries in tea: Dry your freshly harvested berries by putting them in the oven at a low temperature (115 or so) on a baking sheet. Parchment is recommended as a liner so that your berries don’t hang out on the metal sheet. A dehydrator is even easier. Once the berries are dried, store in a sanitized mason jar labeled with with the herb name & date you jarred it. Add to teas of your choice, or simply put the dried berries in a mug with hot water and honey.
To make an elderberry tonic: This wonderful recipe from Mother Earth News is a simple way to get the most out of your elderberries for flu season!
Elderberry Tonic Recipe
(adapted from WellnessMama.com)
Tip: Freeze freshly picked elderberries in clusters after harvesting to simplify the de-stemming process.
- 2/3 cup Elderberries (fresh or frozen)
- 3-1/2 cups of water
- 2 tbsp fresh or dried ginger root (or powder)
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/2 tsp cloves or clove powder
- 1 cup raw honey
- Pour water into a medium saucepan and add elderberries, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.
- Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until the liquid reduces to almost half (about 45 minutes to 1 hour).
- Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Pour through a strainer into a glass jar or bowl.
- Discard the elderberries (feed to chickens or compost) and let the liquid cool to lukewarm.
- Add 1 cup of honey and stir well. (Note: honey is added after the mixture has cooled to keep raw enzymes intact).
- Pour mixture into glass jars to be stored in the fridge for up to three months.
Prevention (can be taken daily)
1. Kids (13 months-12 years old): 1/2 to 1 teaspoon
2. Adults: 1/2 to 1 Tablespoon
Take the normal dose every 2-3 hours until symptoms disappear.
Don’t get caught off guard by cold and flu season this year. Prepare this easy elderberry elixir for a natural alternative for flu prevention and recovery.
1. NEVER give Elderberry Tonic to infants 12 months/under.
2. Elderberries can be used as any other berry for pies, jams, breads, stuffing, etc.
3. Consuming raw elderberries causes extreme GI distress in many people. Try a few berries raw before overindulging.
So, get out your tea kettles, darlins', and pour yourself some elderberry tea – or just order up some tasty Flu Fighter from Una – and keep those infections at bay!
http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/elderberry-tonic-for-cold-and-flu-prevention-zbcz1508.aspx Web accessed 3 August 2016.
http://honest-food.net/2009/07/06/elderberry-season-is-here/ Web accessed 3 August 2016.
The Herbarium Monographs. “Elder”. http://herbarium.herbalacademyofne.com/monographs/#ID=1005. Web accessed 3 August 2016.