With Halloween weeks away, I thought I would begin with a little Elderberry spirit mythology. According to Salamon and Grulova, elderberry folklore includes the belief during medieval times that lost spirits lived in elder shrubs, 17th century Germans believed that before using any part of the plant they had to invoke the spirit of “Hyledemoer” three times, the Latvians brought the spirit Puškaitis gifts of food and beer, and in many cultires the elder tree was considered a gift from the Goddess to those who honored her (2015). According to the Whole Foods blog post on elderberry, English people in the Middle Ages, believed witches would rest in the branches of the trees. Many tales also exist of the protection elderberry trees provided against evil spirits in countries such as Russia, Romania, Sicily, and Scotland.
Elderberry has been found in archeological sites dating back to 4,000 BC and the medicinal use of elderberry can be traced back to the writings of Greeks such as Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.), Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 A.D.) and the Roman scholar Gaius Plinius Secundus (23-70 A.D.). Charlemagne decreed that every yard in his realm should have an Elder tree that could be used to make medicine. Hippocrates considered elderberry “nature’s medicine chest.”
The medicinal properties of elderberry have been widely studied and modern medicine has embraced this plant’s healing properties. Elderberries are antiviral, antimicrobial, and antioxidant. According to research, elderberries are effective against both Gram-positive bacteria of Streptococcus pyogenes and group C and G Streptococci, and the Gram-negative bacterium Branhamella catarrhalis in liquid cultures. Elderberry extract also inhibits replication of flu viruses (Krawitz et al, 2011).
HOW does Elderberry slow viruses? The constituent anthocyanin contains neuraminidase inhibiting properties. This means the anthocyanin stops the virus from injecting its DNA into our cells. Elderberry also works with the immune system by stimulating B and T cells to work throughout the lymphatic system, helping to remove waste and damaged cells from our bodies. In addition to the defense properties, Elderberries are also highly nutritious and are high in antioxidants (Swift & Midura, 2019). For best effect start taking elderberry at the first sign of a cold or flu to reduce the duration of the illness. Personally, as soon as Fall starts, I begin taking a teaspoon to tablespoon of elderberry syrup each day to boost my immune system.
This year I was fortunate enough to find wild elderberry while paddleboarding on the Harpeth River in Tennessee with my daughter. Honestly, it was the highlight of my 2020 summer with most of the world under lockdown to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It was the first time I had ever seen wild elderberry and I was lucky enough to responsibly harvest some from multiple trees along the river. Sharing some pictures here to inspire you to find your own elderberry grove… it truly was a treasure!
There are many ways you can incorporate elderberry into your medicine chest but here are 3 easy ways to get started. If you have left over elderberries feel free to add them to tea blends too!
Elderberry Syrup with Honey (must be refrigerated)
2 cups dried elderberry.
4 cups filtered water
**Note- if you use fresh elderberry, only use enough water to allow you to cook the elderberry. You only need a few tablespoons for each 2 cups. I learned this the hard way!**
Honey – amount to be determined after measuring the decoction
OPTIONAL: ¼ ounce fresh grated gingerroot, ½ tsp of ground clove, cinnamon stick (Jennifer’s addition) and I have seen many other options on the internet that seem intriguing so feel free to experiment!
Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Use a lid but keep it slightly ajar. Stir occasionally – until water reduces by approximately ½ – about 45 minutes. Use a potato masher about ½ way through to mash the berries and release all the constituents.
Using a metal strainer or sieve, strain the berries into a measuring cup a little bit at a time. After putting a few spoonfuls of berry mixture in the strainer, use the back of a spoon to press out all the liquid. Save the berry pulp in a 36-ounce mason jar to be used later for a bonus tincture. Repeat until all berries have been strained through the strainer. You may need to strain the liquid a second time to ensure all bits and pieces are removed- I use a cheese cloth or a nutmilk bag. Add the optional ingredients and simmer with lid on for 20 minutes. Strain again. You now have a decoction.
Measure and record the amount of elderberry decoction. Return it to a clean pan free of all elderberry residue. Add an equal amount of honey and whisk well. Allow the mixture to cool. Bottle. Label. Rinse pan immediately so you don’t have a ruined pan. MUST BE REFRIGERATED. Will last at least 12 weeks.
Basic Elderberry Tincture (check out my SHOP page)
Tinctures are invaluable, as water will retrieve only some of the medicinal properties of an herb. In addition, they can be stored for extended periods, allowing you to harvest and tincture herbs in season. If stored correctly, apple cider vinegar tends to last for approximately six months; alcohol-based tinctures will last indefinitely.
1 mason jar
Elderberries – ¼ to 1/3 mason jar of dried elderberries or ½ jar fresh elderberries
Vodka 100 proof or Apple Cider Vinegar if you do not want to use alcohol– fill the jar within an inch to the top
Label jar with date and contents. Shake it at least once daily if not twice for four to six weeks. Keep out of direct sunlight. Strain tincture using a washed nutmilk bag, muslin or even a french press. Bottle in amber bottles.
1 mason jar
Elderberries – ½ jar fresh elderberries. Make sure your elderberries are dry or they may ferment.
Honey – Fill the remaining of the jar with honey.
Optional – You can also add fresh ginger or other herbs as desired
Label jar with date and contents.
Turn the jar over and allow the elderberries to flow through to the top, repeat a few hours later. Add more honey if needed. Turn the jar over and allow the elderberries to flow through to the top, repeat a few hours later. Add more honey if needed.
Flip the jar like an hour glass several times a day for a minimum of 3 weeks and up to 6 weeks. If a little bit of fermentation occurs (bubbling) don’t worry.
When it’s time to strain the mixture, place the jar in a pot of warm water below 110 degrees to allow the honey to soften so it is easier to strain. You can use a fine double sieve or a strainer with a piece of muslin and keep in a mason jar.
Keep in a cool place and use often! This will keep for many months and up to a year.
Elderberry Recommended Dosing
Adult: 20-40 drops once per day (between ¼ – ½ tsp)
Children: ¼ tsp per day
Adult: 20-40 drops 3- 4 times per day (between ¼ – ½ tsp)
Children: ¼ tsp, 3-4 times per day.
If you’d like to evaporate the alcohol add tincture to hot tea, otherwise you can take straight or mix with another liquid
Adult – 1 tbsp per day
Child (over one year) – 1 tsp per day
Adult – 1 to 2 tbsp every 3-4 hours not to exceed 6 doses in a day
Children over one – 1 tsp every 3-4 hours not to exceed 6 doses in a day
Elderberries can be diarhetic. If that happens, reduce dosage or stop taking for a day and then reduce dosage when you re-start.
You can use several tablespoons daily. Use in any way you would use honey.
Gladstar, R. (2012). Medicinal herbs: a beginner’s guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
Hawkins, J., Baker, C., Cherry, L., & Dunne, E. (2019). Black elderberry ( sambucus nigra ) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 42, 361-365. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004
Krawitz, C., Mraheil, M. A., Stein, M., Imirzalioglu, C., Domann, E., Pleschka, S., & Hain, T. (2011). Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 11, 16. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-11-16
Link, R. (2019, July 10). Elderberry benefits for colds, flus, allergies and more. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/nutrition/herbs/elderberry/
Natural Grocers. Learn why this fabled berry is a flu virus’s worst nightmare. Retrieved from https://www.naturalgrocers.com/article/elderberry
Salamon, Ivan & Grulova, Daniela. (2015). Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): From natural medicine in ancient times to protection against witches in the middle ages – A brief historical overview. 1061. 35-40.
Swift. K. (2017). Elder: herb of the week. Retrieved from https://commonwealthherbs.com/herb-week-elder/
Swift, K. and Midura, R. (2018). Herbal medicine for beginners. Emeryville, CA: Althea Press