This season the elderberries are so bountiful and plump they are bending branches with their weight. The berries will ripen throughout the next month depending on where the trees are growing and how much sun they get. When ripe they boast a beautiful deep purple, almost black color (hence the common name, black elder). Once you start to use these berries in cooking (or just eat them by the handful) you will become even more familiar with the bright purple color that is somehow a cross between the brilliance of the sunset and the richness of deep ocean waters – it will only temporarily stain your fingers and teeth!
Elderberries are a wonderful remedy for cold and flu. Research has show elderberries to be effective fighting over nine different strains of influenza! They are rich in antioxidants and in vitamins. elderberries support elimination and can be good for slow sluggish wintertime digestion. Elderberries have an affinity for the respiratory system and are good to keep in mind for coughs or croupy congestion in the lungs. Elderberry is an excellent remedy to both prevent and treat cold and flu. I take it when I think I might be about to get sick or once I am already sick. Either way, I continue to take the medicine until all symptoms have cleared. For medicinal purposes, I like to make and take elderberry syrup, but tea and tincture also work well.
Elderberry is also an excellent wild food. It can be eaten as a regular part of the diet to receive both nutritional and medicinal benefits. Elderberries can be eaten raw or cooked and lend themselves well to all the same things as blueberries: jams and jellies, pies, smoothies, wine, mead, cordial, muffins, relishes, on oatmeal or cereal, the list goes on and on. This year I have so many that I even froze some for the winter!
Elderflowers also have many wonderful medicinal properties. See, The Elder Tree – Using the Flowers and Elderflower Pancakes!, posted last spring. The Elder Tree post also includes complete identification information so that you can correctly identify a black elder tree!
Enjoy Your Medicine!
There is a common association that medicine is something disgusting. I think this is common because we often think of medicine as something that we “have to take.” Even while we may think of that medicine as being “good for us” or “necessary,” we bring these obligatory feelings to the act of taking it. We take it with resentment rather than love and joy. Medicine is more healing when we embrace it with an intention of love – after all, love heals.
One way that I think we can transform this is by making our own medicine. And to that end, striving to make medicine that we enjoy tasting and taking, so that we can bring pleasure and joy into the processes that nourish and heal us. I can just see an image of child pouting and complaining to take their medicine. Imagine if that child had helped to make it and looked forward to taking it. We should enjoy that which nourishes us the most. In my household I can hardly keep the elderberry syrup around until cold season. I make it from the fresh berries in the late summer when they are ripe and try to keep it in the fridge until we needed – it is such a treat it often doesn’t last long! Luckily this year I think there will be enough berries to pleasurably indulge!
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
6 Tbs. fresh elderberries or (4 Tbs. dried)
1 tsp. fresh ginger root
2 cups water
1/2 cup raw, unrefined honey
1/4 cup brandy (optional)
Combine elderberries, ginger and water in a saucepan and simmer on low until the liquid volume reduces by half (to about 1 cup). Strain berries and ginger from decoction and add ½ cup of honey (or another natural sweetener) and brandy (optional). I like to combine these ingredients in a jar so that I can shake it to mix it. Shake or mix until the honey dissolves and all ingredients are combined. Stored in refrigerator will usually last for up to 3 months.
Adding brandy to your syrup will increase the shelf life of the syrup. I still recommend you refrigerate the syrup, but it will last for much longer and reduce chances of mold. If you want to make an alcohol free syrup you can add raw, unrefined apple cider vinegar instead. Many of my students add the apple cider vinegar in addition too, to make the syrup less sweet – feel free to experiment. You can also add some fresh squeezed lemon juice to this recipe. Lemon juice is high in vitamin C and also acts as a preservative.
Take 1 Tbs. 2 – 3 x/day as needed to boost the immune system. I usually take elderberry syrup if I feel I might get sick and continue to take it until all symptoms have cleared. If you do get sick or are already sick, continue to take elderberry syrup through the course of illness. Elderberry syrup is an excellent remedy for children. Children under 10 should take half the adult dose. Children under 5, one quarter the adult dose. Children ages 1 – 2, 30 drops. Children under 1 should not have honey and therefore should not have elderberry syrup made with honey.