Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Elder Medicine

I just realized I didn't have a really informative article about elderberries on this blog, so here is one from the archives of my old blog, first published several years ago. My elderberry patch is much bigger now, as I just can't get enough of these healing berries (and neither can my family, friends and growing community). This post is a little out of season for gathering elderberries, but very timely for using them. Enjoy...

Of all the nourishing and healing plants I grow and harvest in my earth space, I am most grateful for the two elder bushes, one wild and one planted. This is the first year I had a harvest large enough for medicine making, and I have been anticipating preserving these precious berries for our winter stores as we move closer to the flu season.

Back in mid-summer I harvested elder flowers to dry. The flowers are high in vitamin C and bioflavinoids and are useful in treating congestion and soothing nerves. A famous gypsy fever remedy consists of elder flowers, yarrow flowers and peppermint. This tea helps to break a fever by promoting sweating, moving the heat and toxins out through the skin.

Now is the time to collect elder's berries. And if I don't do it, the birds certainly will.

Elderberries are high in vitamins A and C, and are one of Nature's antivirals. 

This is one of the most effective herbal remedies for preventing and treating the flu. It is also a general strengthening tonic, great for taking into the system as we move into the colder months. It is excellent for gearing up our immune systems at the onset of cold and flu season, as well as treating colds and flus for a faster recovery time. My family has come to rely on elder medicine and it has not disappointed. Elderberries not only gear up the immune system (modulate it, as herblaist Kiva Rose says), but they are also anti-viral, making it very effective agiast all strains of flu virus (not jus the ones this year's flu shot is created for). Elderberries also strengthen the mucous membranes, helping to flush out phlegm from the system. What a perfect combination for keeping well as the seasons turn.

Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, is a native plant in our region. It's use goes back thousands of years as a valuable and much revered medicinal plant. In Europe the Sambucus nigra species was used since the time of Ancient Greece at least. And here in America, the canadensis species was used by Native Americans for generations. It once grew abundantly along stream beds and woodland edges, and can still be found in the less cultivated areas of our region.

The berries themselves don't taste too great, so a little concocting is in order to get the kiddos to take them. One solution is adding them to a jam recipe...

This is a plum/elder jam made with 2 1/2 cups of plums and 1/2 cup of elderberries. The color is an almost fluorescent purple. I've got three jars of this medicinal food to boost us up this fall, but the berries don't stop with jam.

This year I delved into the ancient art of electuary crafting, inspired by Susan Hess at Farm at Coventry. She recently posted about making electuaries (basically thick herbal honey pastes) and included a recipe for an elderberry electuary.

I used 2 teaspoons of powdered cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of powdered cloves, and 2 teaspoons of powdered ginger. To this I added about 1/3 cup of fresh elderberries and one cup of honey. This mixture was heated over very low heat in a double boiler for about 10 hours, then transferred into a jar...

The result is a very thick and spice paste that is great medicine. This may be taken by the teaspoon at the onset of a cold or flu or eaten as a tonic and preventative throughout the season. I was unsure how the boys would react to something so strong and spicy, but Rainer seemed to like it used as a topping on homemade muffins.

I still hope to harvest more elderberries as the season unfolds, as I have more medicine making planned for this magical and healing plant.


  1. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
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  2. It was a nice blog post and entertaining. Keeping healthy was a big responsibility in life. I have read an article that Herbal Incense can be als obe sued for medication but mostly it can be dangerous is misused.