Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has been my go-to immune booster ever since I had children and learned about its amazing health benefits. It has a long history of uses and is revered for its antioxidant and antiviral qualities. In Old World tradition, an elder bush was planted at the edge of a garden as the “protector” of the garden. I have to admit, I have often wondered if author J.K. Rowling of the famous Harry Potter series knew what she was doing when she made the most powerful wand, an elder wand.
Both the elder flowers and the berries have medicinal properties. In late spring- early summer the elder bush produces beautiful white lacy flowers in flat-topped clusters that can span 6” wide. The flowers are edible and can be dried and made into a tea or fried like a fritter in a light tempura-like batter which sounds pretty delicious. Elder flowers are a diaphoretic which means they induce sweating and therefore help to relieve or lower fevers. The elder berries are produced later in the season, late summer – early fall. When ripe, the tiny berries are purplish-black and hang in heavy globular clusters.
Some of the key components of elderberries are Vitamin A, B and lots of C, bioflavonoids, beta-carotene, iron, potassium, and phytosterols. They also contain flavonoids, including quercetin, an antioxidant that helps prevent damage to your body’s cells and is believed to deliver much of the therapeutic actions of the elderberry flowers and berries.
The elderberries antiviral properties are so helpful in fighting colds and flus. It is also often used to treat upper-respiratory infections. At our house, we start taking a daily dose (1/2 -1 tsp) of elderberry syrup at the first sign of a cold or flu, it is incredible at either knocking the cold out completely or at least shortening its duration. We will also take it a little more regularly, a dose Monday through Friday with the weekend off, at times of the year when I know we are going to be exposed to more germs. For instance, when the kids go back to school, we need to get on a plane, or if your work environment has become infiltrated with sick people during cold season.
Although all parts of the plant (leaves, flowers and berries) can be used to make teas, jams, syrup, wine and cordials, they can all be mildly toxic, as they contain a cyanide-producing substance. It is advised to not eat them raw and only harvest the berries when they are completely ripe (purple-black). Otherwise, you may experience digestive upset and diarrhea.
One of the best tasting ways to enjoy herbal preparations is as syrup because they contain sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, rice syrup and/or fruit juice and make the tart taste more palatable. This is certainly the case with Elderberry syrup. We like to use local honey in our preparations since it provides us with the all the added health benefits we get from the honey too. In addition, the added sugar will help to preserve the syrup, especially when you are not adding in alcohol to the preparation.
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
2 Quarts fresh elderberries
¼ oz. freshly grated organic ginger or 2 Tbls. dried organic ginger
½ tsp. organic cloves
1 tsp organic cinnamon
– Harvesting the elderberries is the most time consuming part of making the syrup. You can harvest the berries by hand or with a fork. Recently, I saw a YouTube video and the person used a designated hair pick for the job and that seemed to work really well. You want to do your best getting the berries off the stems, without getting too crazy about every little stem; you will be straining this mix in the end.
– Collect the berries in a pan and give them a rinse.
– Add water to your elderberries, for fresh berries use a 1:1 cup ratio, for dried berries use 2:1 ratio.
– Add ginger, cloves and cinnamon to the pot.
– Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 45 minutes, allow cooling.
– Before straining the mix, I mash the berries to get the most out of them with a potato masher or wooden mallet.
– Strain the liquid through a sieve and compost the berries.
– Add raw local honey for maximum health benefits. Stir until well mixed and pour into sterile jars or bottles.
– Store in the refrigerator.
Take a tsp daily during the cold and flu season. There are so many ways to enjoy this remedy – in yogurt, added to drinks, and as pancake syrup. Recently, we have been using elderberry syrup to make fermented elderberry soda at the farm.