Welcome the Elderberry!

With cold and flu season upon us, how about looking at a natural preventive or remedy that’s been overlooked for too long? Welcome the elderberry!

In one of my Mother Earth News issues I read that the elderberry, sambucus, is a seasonal berry that fruits just in time for the prevention of cold and flu season. It’s a member of the honeysuckle family, and is a perennial shrub with pithy stems. The elderberry is typically found in valley bottoms or along streams.

Its fruit is in the form of pea-sized berries that ripen from green to dark blue or black with a waxy coating. And it’s loaded with health benefits. People in North America, Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa have known about the medicinal properties of the elderberry for thousands of years. Just look at what this fruit is known for:

• It’s an antioxidant
• It lowers cholesterol
• It improves vision
• It boosts the immune System
• It improves heart health
• It fights bacterial and viral infections

And because of its powerful health benefits, people harvest this fruit to make an elixir that is extremely effective at preventing and treating the common cold and flu.

Elderberry tonic is a widely shared recipe right now. This one, adapted from the website Wellness Mama (wellnessmama.com) uses food we all have in our cupboards—ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and honey. Add some water and fresh or dried elderberries and you’re in business.

So what makes the elderberry such a potent health benefit? It’s their anthocyanins. Elderberries are loaded with them. They enhance immune function by boosting the production of cytokines. These unique proteins act as messengers in the immune system to help regulate immune response, thus helping to defend the body against disease. In fact, research shows that the anthocyanins found in elderberries possess appreciably more antioxidant capacity than either vitamin E or vitamin C!

And another bonus: This tonic type syrup tastes great. Even kids will take it without a fuss or whine.

Then there’s the cost. Several natural elderberry syrups are available at health stores or online, but usually for around $15 or more for 4-8 ounces. The recipe found on Wellness Mama makes 16 ounces for a cost of under ten dollars.

All this said, there are a couple cautions you want to know when using elderberries. The author of the article I referenced above, Lyndsay Mynatt, says:

1. NEVER give Elderberry Tonic to infants 12 months/under.

2. And while elderberries can be used as any other berry for pies, jams, breads, stuffing, etc., consuming raw berries causes extreme GI distress in many people. Be sure to try a few berries raw before overindulging.

This isn’t a berry we commonly see in our grocery stores or even at farmers’ markets. They are typically sold dried in whole foods stores or online. One source is Mountain Rose Herbs (mountainroseherbs.com). Here dried berries are going for $4.75 for 4 ounces, $8.25 for 8 ounces, and $14.50 for 16 ounces. And I found dried organic elderberries (that come from Bulgaria) for $21.21 a pound on amazon.com. By the way: both sources and their berries received 5 stars from all reviewers (and the amazon source had over 200 reviews).

Finally, dried elderberries are hard like split peas. They must be cooked to be consumed, so you can’t eat them right out of the bag like we do dried blueberries or cranberries. They’re great as an herb tea ingredient and reconstitute wonderfully well for pie.

In conclusion, the elderberry has a superlative reputation as a cold and flu preventer or remedy. So let’s welcome the elderberry and not let this season get the better of us. Here’s your recipe for one of the best natural elixers around:


• 1 cup elderberries (fresh, frozen, OR dried)
• 3 1/2 cups water (boiling, if using dried berries)
• 2 tbsp fresh or dried ginger root (or powder)
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp whole cloves or ground cloves
• 1 1/2 cups 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 refrigerator for up to three months.

Recommended dose for PREVENTION (can be taken daily):

1. Children (13 months-12 years old): 1/2 to 1 teaspoon

2. Adults: 1/2 to 1 tablespoon

Recommended dose for RECOVERY:

Take the normal dose every 2-3 hours until symptoms disappear.

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  •   www.mommypotamus.com
  •   www.wellnessmama.com
  •   www.drugstore.com
  •   www.mountainroseherbs.com
  •   www.goingevergreen.org

    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
    Email the author! alice@dvo.com

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