The Truth About Elderberries

elder
Elder is probably the most well-known antiviral herb on the market at present. It can assist in reducing inflammation in the sinuses to relieve congestion, eliminate metabolic waste products, stimulate sweating to remediate fevers, and reduce flu and cold symptoms. Elderberries contain shikimic acid, an antiviral compound that is used to create Tamiflu, an anti-flu pharmaceutical.

The Truth About Elderberries:
While the anti-inflammatory and elimination effects of tannins; vitamin A, calcium, iron, cyanogenic glycoside, viburnic and shikimic acids, and other health supporting alkaloids in elderberries can withstand heating and drying, the Vitamin C complex and other flavonoids (AKA antioxidants) can not. Heat and drying, whether it is stove top heat, or drying with air, stove, dehydrators, microwave, (for the love of all things holy, please never use a microwave to dry herbs or for any other reason), or any other heat source will degrade to destroy the flavonoids in plants. Bioflavonoids are capable of increasing bodily health by supporting strong immune function and cell formation, destroying cancer causing free radicals in the body that corrupt cellular information, have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties, and are antiviral and antibacterial to name just a few of their actions in the body. The most commonly found information on the “interwebs” says to use dried elderberries, make a tea, and then make a syrup from the tea. Boom!  Drying and heating. You’ve immediately lost a very important component of elderberries’ super powers! Some websites even go as far as to advise the use plain sugar instead of honey in making the syrup. While honey contains its own antibacterial properties and aids in the extraction of flavonoids, alkaloids, and nutrients; sugar, on the other hand, does none of this and decreases immune activity for several hours upon ingestion. Please be very skeptical of herbal information given out, and read all blogs, facebook posts, instagram and pinterest cuteness with a grain of salt. Much information is of “copy and paste” quality. What to believe? Just because the same information is on several sites does not mean it’s good info. Do your research before harvesting and making herbal medicine.

Harvesting elderberries in late September

Garbled elderberries ready for smashing

Mashed elderberries ready to be put in jars

My awesome apprentices really get into preparing their harvests for remedies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to retain the immune supporting and antiviral vitamin C complex and flavonoids in addition to the alkoloids, it’s best to prepare elderberries fresh. Flavonoids/antioxidants are water soluble. Use 80 to 100 proof vodka in your remedies to ensure that they will be extracted well. Remember that the stems and seeds of elder contain toxins and must be removed. In order to easily separate the elderberries from the rest of the plant material, freeze the harvest overnight. Garble the berries from the stems while they are still frozen. Once the berries thaw out, it becomes difficult, time consuming, and messy to remove the stems. Now, put a small amount of berries at a time in a bowl, and gently squish them to break open the skins, making sure to not break open the seeds. Fill a jar 1/2 of the way up the jar with all your fresh squished berries. Fill half the jar with either brandy or apple cider vinegar, then top off with honey. Brandy and honey make an elixir, apple cider vinegar and honey make an oxymel. Tightly cover the jar with a plastic lid, or with a piece of parchment paper between the metal lid and the vinegar if making an oxymel, and put it on a dish as there may be some leakage. Let macerate in your fridge (to prevent fermentation) for a month, then strain all plant material including the seeds. If you choose to make a straight up alcohol tincture, fill your jar halfway with the mashed berries, then fill to the top of the jar with 100 proof alcohol to extract and preserve all alkaloids and antioxidants. It is not necessary to refrigerate the alcohol tinctures while they’re macerating. Be sure to put a label on your jars/bottles so you know what you made!

A half to a whole teaspoon in a cup of warm water several times a day is all that is needed to provide relief. As elixirs and oxymels take a month to macerate fully, you might want to get on this right away! You, your family, and your friends will be very happy when you provide them with herbal medicine that works well! I’m a big proponent for “getting the medicine to the people in a way they’ll take it.” I teach this to my apprentices. How can we get the medicine of elder in someone who won’t take a tincture? Or doesn’t like the taste of vinegar? My husband is a big fan of honey. He puts it on his bread and in his coffee every day. I make several gallons of herbal honeys; willow, ginger, lavender, devil’s club, dandelion, hawthorn, wild currants, and elderberry are just a few of what I’ve made for him this year. I keep a selection of small honeypots on the table for him to dip into every day. I make him lemonade with herbal honeys and elixirs in them. He utilizes herbal medicine every day, but it is so part of his daily habit now that he doesn’t realize it. I’m happy to know that I’m feeding him well and keeping him healthy. He’s just happy to eat his honey!

For more info on herbal medicine making, read our plant medicine made easy tutorial.

Elderberries in an elixir made with organic lemon (including the rind), whole cloves, and ginger in an applejack brandy and local honey

Fill jar halfway only to allow plenty of room for menstruum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Elder Flowers

Blue Elder Flowers

For reducing inflammation and fevers, and eliminating metabolic waste, the elder *FLOWERS* of the blue (not red) elder can used. You’ll find these available in June, generally speaking. It could be earlier or later, depending on environment and weather each year. To make a great-tasting and effective elder syrup, put 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Add 1 cup of dried blue elderflowers. Bring to a boil, turn it down to a medium simmer, and let this simmer until half of the liquid is gone. The resulting brew is called a decoction. Strain the elder from the decoction, rinse out your pan, and return the strained decoction to the pan. Add twice the amount of honey to the decoction, heat until the honey is thoroughly incorporated into the decoction, and jar it up. You now have elderflower syrup that can be taken by the teaspoon straight, added to teas, warm water, drizzled over yogurt, ice cream, oatmeal, and more. Kids over 2 years of age love this syrup, and it will keep all winter in the fridge. I know the latest info is that babes over 1 year can ingest honey, but I’m not buying the hype. Keep in mind that the flavonoids in the flowers will be destroyed, but other alkaloids will remain intact.

There you have it. The truth about elderberries! Keep believing in herbal medicine, because it’s awesome, and be healthy!

 

Comments

  1. Rachael  September 4, 2016

    Thank you for this- we are lucky to have a tree in our yard! I’m confused on the seeds- can you clarify what to do with them I the processing? Looks like the squeezing of the berry is meant to remove the seed (?) but that the seeds are also contained in a small sac that’s not meant to be broken? Do you remove these, separate, and then keep the remaining berry? Are there many seeds per pouch? Thank you!

    reply
    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  July 12, 2017

      Breaking open the skins of the berries allows the menstruum easy access to the medicine inside. We do not want to break the seeds, as they contain chemicals that are harmful. The seeds are strained out after the remedy is ready. Yes, there is “goo” around each seed. The mentstrua will be able to dissolve that.

      reply
  2. A Magical Life  March 17, 2017

    I’ve been writing a book on elderberry foraging and recipes, and I’ve researched extensively on the subject of how heat will affect the medicinal properties of elderberries. I especially wanted to know about the high heat involved in canning, since so many herbal sites recommend canning the juice but I thought the heat might harm the compounds in it. This is the first time I’ve seen mention that even drying elderberries harms the compounds. Rosemary Gladstar herself recommends using dried elderberries for anti-flu syrup, and I’m pretty inclined to believe anything Ms. Gladstar says (big fan here). Are you saying that all those herbalists are wrong and elderberries can only be used raw for medicinal purposes? I would love to find some research either way, as I’ve read that some of the medicinal properties are actually increased through heating but now I’m seeing this. Do you know of any studies? Thanks!

    reply
    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  July 12, 2017

      Thank you for your comment and questions. I’ve never been one to debate what other herbalists say or do. There are many ways to make herbal medicine. Some are valid, some not. While some of the antiviral properties of the elder, as I stated in my article, are preserved with heat and drying, the bulk of the medicine is in the antioxidants. Antioxidants are a very large group of chemicals that have a wide variety of actions including antiviral, antiallergic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anticancer, and more. Science shows that antioxidants are destroyed with heat and drying. Please feel free to do your research on this, and provide a book that is well written with valid info.

      reply

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