Elderberry - sometimes referred to as the 'medicine chest of country people' - is a big time favourite during cold and flu season. Although the entire plant can be used in some capacity for remedy purposes, the berries and the flowers are most commonly used.
Harvesting berries involves the watch and pounce method. The berries must turn to a dark, almost black colour before they are ready to pick. At this point, one must be quicker than the local birds who are also eager for their share of elderberries. Although birds might eat the berries fresh, it's important for we humans to carefully process the berries before consuming them. Eating fresh berries can quickly turn into a bad case of stomach upset. Drying and/or cooking them is the best way to avoid this. Elderberries can be turned into delicious jellies, juices, wines, and into remedies such as syrups, gummies and teas. In terms of health remedies, the berries are mostly used to aid in respiratory tract ailments - colds, bronchitis, sinusitis, scratchy throats, and especially influenza. In fact, in a double blind study with people afflicted with influenza, it was determined that using Sambucol (an elderberry syrup) vs a placebo resulted in a significant improvement in symptoms and a quicker recovery!
Elder flowers may not be as widely used in our area, but they definitely deserve a mention. They are beautiful, fragrant star shaped flowers. They also have an affinity for respiratory conditions, and are known for their diaphoretic properties - that is, their ability to encourage 'sweating out a fever'. Gargles can be made from the flower to ease sore throats. Elder flower salves and ointments are also used for skin conditions.
If you want the goodness of elderberries, but want something a little different from elderberry syrup, try your hand at an elixir.
Fill a quart jar half full with elderberries. Add in enough alcohol to fill the jar ¾ full and then top with honey. Mix well. You may find you have space at the top of the jar. Add more honey to fill. Seal the jar and label with the date the name of your concoction (nothing worse than staring blankly at a jar with no idea what is in it!). Let sit for 3 weeks, shaking daily. Strain after 3 weeks . Take 1 -3 teaspoons daily to help keep the flu at bay.
Clinical herbalist. Mother. Teacher. Ever student.