Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
From The Handbook of Vintage Remedies: The elder plant, both the flowers and berries have been used medicinally since the time of Hippocrates. It was traditionally used as a remedy for the flu and common cold, and today, that tradition remains strong, as many natural cold and flu preparations still contain parts of the elder plant.
Dr. Shook, an herbal pioneer discussed the herb many times in his work, and fervently believed that the common cold and flu could be cured worldwide by the use of a blend containing elder and peppermint with yarrow.
The berries are also frequently made into a syrup preparation and are thus suitable as an immune booster, working to prevent viral infections during times of increased exposure.
When to use it: Elder is ideally suited for use as an immune stimulant and as a remedy for viral infections, particularly the flu and common cold. Elderberry syrup is a staple in the Hawkins’ home during the fall and winter months. When additional remedies are also useful, elderberry can be continued throughout the illness, as it blends readily with many other herbs.
Culinary Medicine: Elderberry jam is a common addition to many breakfast tables in some countries. While it is not as commonly available in the United States, some gourmet grocers carry foods featuring elderberries. The berries must be cook, however, since the raw plant contains a cyanide producing substance that is inactivated by cooking.
Optimal Dose: 1-3 tablespoons syrup a day
When to avoid it: Elder berries and flowers are generally considered to be safe, and there are no known situations that would require avoidance of the herb.
Project: Elderberry Syrup
This syrup is a must have during the cold and flu season. It is kid friendly and can be used with other herbs to create useful remedies throughout the year.
100 g dried elderberries
1 quart cold distilled water
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1 cup local honey
Combine in a large (cold) saucepot. If time permits, allow the berries to soak until they are soft, about 30 – 60 minutes. Place over medium heat and gradually bring to a boil. Once a rolling boil has been reached, stir frequently and continue to boil until the liquid has been reduced by half – roughly 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Strain the concentrated extract and measure the liquid. It should be roughly 2 cups. Combine with the cup and a half of honey, brown rice syrup, glycerin or simple sugar solution. (Or a blend of two or more sweeteners as I did in the ingredient list above.) Bring back to a boil and continue to boil for 10 minutes until the mixture is thoroughly combined and the syrup reaches your preferred consistency. Allow to cool slightly and pour into prepared bottles. Store in the refrigerator.
Notes: My personal preference is a thick, honey-like syrup that stays on the spoon when scooped out of the bottle. However, you can make it as thick or thin as you prefer, depending on how long you boil the second stage.
Alternative Recipe: Cough and Cold Syrup
75 g dried black elderberries
20 g dried astragalus root
25 g dried echinacea root
10 g dried wild cherry bark
1 cup local honey
(Use the same directions as the basic elderberry syrup. All dried herbs will go in the water with the elderberry in the initial decoction stage.)
Want to learn more? Check out our distance learning herbal education programs!