I can’t tell you how much I have looked forward to harvesting the elderberries this year! I was diligent about pruning this spring ( I cut it back almost 40% and pulled up all the rooted suckers to give away) in anticipation of having more fruit. The two bushes outdid my expectations. If there was one herbal remedy that I really want to make and use year after year, this is it.
Sambucus canadensis is one of those “medicine chest” plants. Soothing ointments and eyewashes can be prepared from its leaves and flowers. All parts of the plant have been used for various complaints over the years. The leaves can be rubbed on skin as an insect repellent. Cuttings of elderberry are good for activating a compost pile. All the way around, it’s a wonderful plant that I’m happy to have as part of our edible landscape.
Elderberry is used for its antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, to improve vision, to boost the immune system, to improve heart health, and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsilitis. Bioflavonoids and other proteins in the juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell. Elderberry juice was used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama in 1995.
Elderberries contain organic pigments, tannin, amino acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, sugar, rutin, viburnic acid, vitaman A and B and a large amount of vitamin C. These, including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic actions of the elderberry flowers and berries.
Elderberries were listed in Mosby’s Nursing Drug reference for colds, flu, yeast infections, nasal and chest congestion, and hay fever. In Israel, Hasassah’s Oncology Lab has determined that elderberry stimulates the body’s immune system, and they are treating cancer and AIDS patients with it.
Elderberry is SO POWERFUL when used against colds and flu I decided to share both syrup and tincture recipes here.
Making Elderberry Cough Syrup:
There are several commercial brands of elderberry syrup available commercially but it is much more cost effective to make it, and you can control all the ingredients it contains. It can be used preventatively or for acute symptoms, and children should love the taste.
- 1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried organic elderberries (minus stems)
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup raw local honey ( I only used 3/4 cup)
- 1 organic cinnamon stick, 3 organic whole cloves, and organic ginger (optional)
Place berries, water, and spices in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until a syrupy thickness. Smash the berries to release remaining juice and strain the mixture. Allow liquid to cool. Stir in raw honey only after it has really cooled to preserve the enzymes and good living food in the honey. This will last for 2-3 months stored in the fridge.
Note: Do not use for children under the age of one due to the honey.
Making Elderberry Tincture:
In last year’s post, you will see exactly how to make a simple elderberry tincture. All you need are these three things:
1.) fresh, dried, or frozen elderberries (minus stems). You can grow your own for next year, find them in the wild, or purchase them. Bulk Herb Store is a reliable source and their elderberries are organic.
2.) a quart jar with a tight fitting lid.
3.) 80 proof or higher vodka. There are Three Main Reasons to use alcohol when making tinctures. If you’re concerned about the alcohol, you can place the tincture in a cup, pour boiling water into the cup, and the alcohol will evaporate within seconds. OR, you can add your dose (20-30 drops) to a cup and let it dry up. When you add water to swallow it, there will be less alcohol left than in a ripe banana.
See here for directions to make a tincture.
For easy removal of the berries from the stems, don’t waste your time picking them off ~ just pop them into a freezer bag and freeze them. Once they are frozen for a day or two, they will become brittle and fall off practically all by themselves.
Plant Elderberries this fall for your own stash:
To give you an idea of how much room you will need if you ever plant elderberry (you need two different varieties for fertility), here is a picture of the largest one, ‘Johns’ :
As a society we have gone outside the home for most of what we need and want in our lives. To mix homemade and homegrown into as much of our lives as possible – even in the littlest things – can change so much.
I encourage you to consider planting edible landscape such as currants, aronia berries, elderberries, and red raspberries. You can have your own ‘medicine chest’ right in your own backyard. Yes, you can, with a little planning, research, and hard work!
I am not a doctor, and do not share this as medical advice; it is something that has been practiced for hundreds of years. Both Pliny the Elder and Hippocrates mentioned and recommended elderberry as a medicinal herb in their writings.
“And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” ~ Genesis 1 :29