Nature really is amazing. Right when cold and flu season starts to hit everyone, nature offers up plants that we can use to help keep us well! Elderberries are a great example of this. I've talked before about the health benefits of the elder tree, but in a nutshell elderberries have long been known as an immunity booster, rich in vitamins A, B and C. They are also used to lower blood sugar in diabetics and they help to reduce inflammation. Overall, these little black berries are a great thing to use not only for overall health, but also for things like the flu or other specific illnesses.
You may have heard of products called sambucus or sambucol which are elderberry syrups that you can buy over-the-counter. These are a great option for those who don't want to go to the trouble of making their own syrup. They will give the same immune-boosting results as a homemade version, but are more costly than making it yourself. I have 3 elder trees where I live, so it makes sense for me to make my own without having to go to too much trouble!
A note if you are picking your own elderberries: To harvest the elderberries, make sure that you are only picking the bunches that are very ripe. Usually the whole stem will turn purple and that's when you know they are ripe enough to use. Also, make sure to use the elderberry variety that is more black-purple than red. The black berries contain the most health benefits and the red ones can be too poisonous!
--------------------- Elderberry Tonic Recipe ---------------------
Elderberries (either fresh or dry, at least 1 cup worth)
Water: 1:1 cups water-to-fresh berry or 2:1 water-to-dried berry ratio
Fresh ginger, grated: 1 Tablespoon per cup of berries (or 1 teaspoon if you are using dried)
Ground cinnamon: 1 teaspoon per cup of berries (you can substitute 2 cinnamon sticks per cup of berries if that's what you have)
Ground cloves: 1/4 teaspoon per cup of berries
Raw honey: 1/2 cup per cup of berries)
If you are using fresh elderberries, stick the whole bunch (stem and all) into the freezer. Once frozen, using a fork, separate the berries from the stems. You can put the berries directly into the pot you are going to use. Pull out as many small bits of stem as you can and give the berries a little rinse before moving to the next step.
If you are not using fresh, you can find dried elderberries on mountainroseherbs or at your local apothecary.
Add water, ginger, cinnamon and cloves and bring to a boil on the stove. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes. When the berry mixture is done cooking, turn off the heat and allow to cool to room-temperature.
Once cool, strain the berries from the liquid into a large bowl using a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth draped over it. Make sure to press the berries that are collected in the strainer with a spoon to get out all of the juices.
Add the honey 1/2 cup at a time to the remaining liquid, stirring well each time you add more honey. Once mixed, pour the elderberry tonic into glass bottles or jars and store in the refrigerator.
To use: take a teaspoon daily during cold and flu season. You can also mix some into yogurt, use as a drink mixer, pour over granola or pancakes, drink some mixed with tea, or use in a second fermentation of water kefir!
Here's to everyone's health! Do you use any other plants to help keep you well? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!