The Truth About Elderberries

Making Elderberry Medicine

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 jar with 2/3rds full 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 may be necessary to refrigerate the alcohol tinctures while they’re macerating to prevent fermentation. Be sure to put a label on your jars/bottles.

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! 

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 intermediary in the production of Tamiflu, an anti-flu pharmaceutical. While commercial production of Tamiflu uses the shikimic acid in Star Anise, elderberries also contain this valuable substance. Cool beans, Elderberry!

Care must be taken when processing elderberries to ensure that the medicinal components are intact in the menstruum. The vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, potassium, niacin, iron, valerianic acid, viburnic and shikimic acids, tyrosine, and other health supporting constituents and nutrients in elderberries can withstand heating and drying, the Vitamin C complex, anthocyanins, polyphenols, and many other flavonoids (AKA antioxidants) may not. Heat and drying, whether it is stove top heat, or drying with stoves, dehydrators, microwaves, or any other heat source can degrade to a degree or destroy many the flavonoids in plants (1).

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.

There is much controversy concerning the lectins in elderberries. Some will point to the instance back in the 80s where several people were “poisoned” by drinking a large quantity of fresh elderberry juice. The symptoms were severe gastric upset and diarrhea. It appears that lectins were the culprit. Elderberry lectins resist degradation in the stomach, meaning they don’t break down in the stomach. This causes the digestive system to try and get rid of them as quickly as possible. That doesn’t mean poisoning, that means holy crap, point the way to the bathroom! Not everyone is affected by the lectins as others may be.

Additionally, the antiviral and anti-inflammatory actions of the anthocyanins in elderberries are reduced with heating. 10 minutes in a hot water bath reduces the anthocyanins by 10%. Most people heat their elderberries on the stove for much longer than 10 minutes at a much higher heat, which destroy a greater percentage of the healthful actions. For more information on lectins and heating elderberries, please read this study.

Personally, I use only fresh elderberries in my remedy making. Why heat the elderberries to lose even a small percentage of its medicine? To me, I honor the plant giving itself to me by utilizing as much of the medicine as possible. Additionally, I microdose, so never have to deal with the possible lectin issue. I take only a teaspoon of an elixir, tincture or oxymel per dose and space each dose out a few hours in between.

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

  1. Tsao, Rong. (2010) Chemistry and Biochemistry of Dietary Polyphenols. pp 1231-1246. doi: 10.339/nu2121231 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257627/

 

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 goo is medicinal! The mentstrua will be able to dissolve the medicine in the goo surrounding the seeds.

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  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!

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    • 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 many 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.

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  3. Brandi  January 4, 2018

    Do you have a site where you sell your stuff at?

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  January 4, 2018

      No, I do not. My focus is on sharing and teaching this valuable information. xo

      reply
  4. Loreta  March 12, 2018

    What is your feeling on making elderberry syrup using an instant pot (pressure cooker)? The berries will spend less time “cooking” but at a higher heat than stovetop.

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  April 11, 2018

      Any time with heat will destroy many of the medicinal bioflavonoids in the berries. The loss of so much of the medicine after the effort of harvesting and processing would be sad!

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  5. Jessica  May 5, 2018

    What should I do if I do not have access to fresh elder berries? It’s just my luck that I purchased dried elder berries moments before I found this blog and so cannot undo my purchase, but even so, I don’t have fresh anywhere. I am going to be planting my own tree somewhere down the road, but that will take some time to begin producing the berries. Could I help maintain as much of the good stuff as possible by using the alcohol with the dried berries instead of boiling them in water? Perhaps chopping the dried berries up first? Any thoughts on this would be appreciated. This is my very first foray into the use of home made herbal concoctions. I would hate to have spend $17 on berries without trying to get as many benefits as possible out of them. Thank you.

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  June 4, 2018

      Hi Jessica!

      Drying and heat do destroy many, but not all, of the bioflavonoids.

      Sometimes we have to wait until the season for the part of the plant we wish to harvest is available again. We will see fresh elderberries in September. During the 27 years that I made herbal products for sale, there were times when I just did not have a product because I didn’t get the harvest done in a timely manner, or nature did her own thing and the plant was ready earlier one year than the next. My customers knew they would get the best quality products from me, because I paid such good attention to detail and only harvested plants when they were ready. I strove to be the best of the best with the medicine in my bottles and jars as this was (and still carries today) my reputation to create and sell quality herbal medicine that worked!

      It does a good service to you and those you wish to give or sell your ware to, to pay attention to the plants you are interested in harvesting in order to keep an eye on best harvest times. Consider finding a good spot for harvesting and freeze the elderberries to use as needed

      I hope this helps!

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  6. Samantha  September 13, 2018

    Is there any good use for dry elderberry’s?

    reply
    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  October 17, 2018

      Sure! The micro and macro nutrients such as sugars and minerals are still viable. Some other constituents may be as well.

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  7. Andrea  September 22, 2018

    I am a bit confused because many of the sites I’ve read say they are poisonous raw.

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  October 17, 2018

      Thanks for asking! It’s the seeds that should not be eaten. The skins and juice are fine. Many sites simply copy and paste info from other places on the internet. Not always with either good or entire info.

      I process mine by gently breaking open the skins, but never crushing the seeds. The seeds are tough and will not let in menstruum if unbroken. I’ve been eating raw blue elderberries for years and am alive to tell the tale without a single issue. Granted, I swirl them in my mouth to get the juice and skins and spit out the seeds. I don’t put them in smoothies. We need to be smart!

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  8. Tracey Gray  September 29, 2018

    Thank you for that information. It was really useful and informative. Some sites say that eating raw elderberries can be harmful, especially if eaten in large quantities.. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    reply
    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  October 17, 2018

      Thanks for asking! It’s the seeds that should not be eaten. The skins and juice are fine. I process mine by gently breaking open the skins, but never crushing the seeds. The seeds are tough and will not let in menstruum if unbroken. I’ve been eating raw blue elderberries for years and am alive to tell the tale without a single issue. Granted, I don’t put them in smoothies or anything like that. That would not be smart. I’ll eat a few while I’m harvesting and processing them. I swirl them in my mouth to access the juice and skins, but don’t crunch down on them to break open the seeds. I spit the seeds out.

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  9. JJ  October 25, 2018

    Ok, I’ve read your comments and answers section Can you recommend any recipe that will make beneficial use of the dried elderberries that many of us have purchased before we became wiser through the information on your website? Thank you for sharing your research.

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  October 29, 2018

      Sure JJ! Dried elderberries contain calcium, magnesium, potassium. Fiber, fructose/glucose/sucrose/levulose, iron, zinc. Malic and lactic acid. Tartaric acid, which, with malic acid, has an alkalizing and cleansing effect in the body. Malic acid is part of the ATP chain! Niacin, which is anti-histaminic, anti-dermatitic, anti-dementia, and anti-vertigo. Elderberries contain valerianic acid which is antispasmodic. Yes, valerianic acid, just like our local wild valerian! All the cool stuff!

      You can use the dried elderberries to make a heated syrup.There are 14,563,678,789.3454306 recipes out there and all are pretty much the same. In my case, if I’m using dried plant material to make a syrup, I use honey vs sugar. Honey is acidic and has its own benefits. I gently heat the honey in the strained dried plant decoction (check out my Plant Medicine Made Easy for instructions on decoctions) 2:1. 2 parts honey and 1 part decoction. I know that I will be able to more easily assimilate the iron and calcium with acidic foods and menstrua. Honey is acidic and is the perfect vehicle for transporting iron and calcium to our cells.

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  10. Pam Colonna  November 30, 2018

    Hi – how long do the dried elderberries last in the bag they were purchased in? Should they be stored in the fridge and for how long will they keep? Thanks!

    reply
    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  December 11, 2018

      It depends on how long ago they had been picked, the quality of the drying, and how long they sat around the warehouse before they were purchased. Whole berries should last for a year at the most, if they were processed and stored properly.

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      • Karan Headley  March 17, 2019

        I freeze & vacuum pack most harvests- yet to have elderberries, will someday- have 12 starts to set out. I partially freeze delicate things til firm, then vacuum pack– and put back in freezer- wala no frost. I freeze part of my tomatoes this way for soups etc-works great, just use a fork to lift out skins {or leave in is no one objects}

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        • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  April 17, 2019

          Sounds like you know what you‘re doing!

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  11. david a knorr  December 28, 2018

    I used to make elderberry wine back in the 80s.Won ribbons at contests.Started making our own jelly . delicious. Got to thinking what else can i make? Saw sambucus products on shelves at pharmacy. Counter help said Amish people swear by sambucus , and pharmacy cant keep shelves stocked.
    So I started making my own elixer? a few years ago. We pick fresh berries and freeze until ready to work with them. Then thaw them out, run them thru a food processor? that separates seeds and skins, while pure juice comes out. No breaking of seeds.Use unflavored brandy 46 proof? along with some lemon zest, cloves, cinnamon. I also started adding a little aronia juice. Let sit for 8 weeks in fridge. No heating occurs. Strain off into brown bottles and refrigerate. Always was leery of heating any plant products. Any suggestions on improving my recipe would be appreciated.

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  December 28, 2018

      Your recipe sounds super tasty AND medicinal all at the same time! I use the skins as they contain so many of the healthy antioxidants. You could try adding some fresh ginger as well. Glad you’re on the “no heating” bandwagon! It’s the smart thing to do, herbally.

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  12. Amy  December 30, 2018

    The elderberries that grow in Missouri are a red/purple variety, not blue. I have been harvesting them in August and freezing them. In winter I boil them with blackberries, mulberries, and strawberries to make a delicious juice. I add a can of frozen grape concentrate to my juice to sweeten it. I strain out the seeds after I have cooked them. Is this a safe way to prepare them or does the heating release the toxins in the seeds? We drink large quantities of this juice especially when we have a cold going around.

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  January 9, 2019

      As long as the seeds are not cracked open, you are safe. Just as a heads up, boiling the berries will destroy a portion of the medicine.

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  13. Anna  January 14, 2019

    I am deeply appreciative of this nuanced and fully-informed article. I have a huge number of frozen elderberries and have been trying to decide whether to make syrup or tincture. I was worried about the presence of the seeds and the alcohol extracting the toxins. This article allayed those fears and I will go with the tincture (although I may make a little syrup and combine the two for tastiness).

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  January 18, 2019

      Thank you for reading the article. I’m so glad you found value in it! I will be bringing frozen elderberries to my Bastyr students next month for them to process into an elixir. xoxo

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  14. Katie  January 29, 2019

    Does freezing fresh elderberries destroy the flavonoids like heating does? I’ve found a source for fresh, frozen wild elderberries and wondering if this is a better choice than dried. I’m assuming I could thaw and use following your recipes, however please advise if that won’t work. Thanks in advance!

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  February 6, 2019

      Freezing for short periods of time do not destroy the flavonoids. Freezer burn is certainly something to avoid, however, so no longer than 6 months in the freezer, well wrapped.

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  15. Jeff White  February 21, 2019

    We love elderberry pie. Which cooks the berries and seeds? Should this also be avoided? Or does cooking the berries in pie also make the seeds less toxic?

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  April 17, 2019

      Hello Jeff,

      That‘s a good question! Elderberry pie sounds wonderful. I know that there are people who bake the blue elderberries whole in the pie, thinking that they will poop out the seeds unbroken. I‘m not so sure about this, myself. While the seeds do have a hard seed covering, they can be broken when chewing or during the digestive process. I‘m trying to think how to separate the seeds from the berries for a pie. I‘m kind of stumped, to tell you the truth. Has anyone out there made elderberry pie and can jump in with comments? Thanks!

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  16. Naj  August 21, 2019

    After I make the elderberry exilir and tincture, do they need to be stored in the fridge or can they be stored in a cabinet? If so, how long?
    Thank You!

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    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  August 25, 2019

      Hello Naj! I store elderberry elixir in the fridge and the straight up tincture in my apothecary cabinet. Doing so with both can keep the medicine viable for about 2 years. I prefer to make fresh elderberry elixir and tincture every 2 years, just to keep on top of the good medicine. xxoo!

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  17. Cyd Renz  August 29, 2019

    Hi Suzanne,
    I am still a bit confused on the seeds? Would I strain the seeds out prior to adding my alcohol/honey. Of course if I add them in my husband will eat them. LOL The separation seems obvious, but since you didn’t give a specific extracting procedure, I thought I would ask. Thank you for the time and effort you put into sharing!
    I sooo appreciate your gift of knowledge.
    Cyd:)

    reply
    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  August 29, 2019

      Hello Cyd,
      I break open the skins of the elderberries and utilize the skins, juice, and seeds to make my remedies. The seeds are NOT broken open, but I do put them in the menstruum with the rest of the berry matter as the seeds have a nutritious gel that encompasses the seeds. That way, I’ll get all the goods! At the end of the masserating process, I’ll strain out the whole shebang and be left with the medicinal/nutritional remedy. No seeds will be in the remedy if strained well. Let me know if you need more info!

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  18. Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com  September 4, 2019

    I have been studying constituents in plants and the science/chemistry of them for many years. Included in my studies are menstruum – which is best to pull out a certain type of constituent, such as a polyphenol group, and preserve them for a certain amount of time. I have utilized many correct and reliable sources including Dr. Duke’s phytochem website and PubMed.
    Some plants, such as elderberries, may have toxic substances in the some plants parts, but not in others. There are no toxins in the “juice,” gel around the seeds, or skins. None of these contain toxins, although the seeds do. So….we don’t crush the seeds when preparing our remedies and we make sure to completely strain them out after the plant material has been in the menstrua for the time it takes to extract the constituents we want. I eat the berries raw when picking them, but not more than a few, and I always spit out the seeds.
    There is so much information on the internet and I understand that it can be confusing. That many people source one particular story says to me that there is a lot of copy and paste going on. I have found over the years that much information is bandied around that is not quite the truth, stretched to prove a point, or just plain untrue for dramatic effect or financial gain – if a website can scare a person off using their own common sense and get them to buy a product, then the company/person has won buyers. When enough people copy and paste a topic or bit of info, it begins to look like the truth.
    There is a story that is copied and pasted profusely about a group of people who apparently drank copious amounts of elderberry juice and were poisoned. We don’t really know the truth about the people who were poisoned. What does poison mean, actually? Drinking copious amounts of elderberry juice can give a person diarrhea and gastric upset. Is that poison? No, that’s gluttony, or falling into the “if a little works, then a lot should work better” syndrome. Lots of fructose in elderberry juice. Were there seeds in the juice? Did they drink red or blue/black elderberry juice? So many questions to ask before believing a story, in my never humble opinion.
    If eating raw elderberries straight off the bush poisons people, then I should have been dead many years ago. That being said, I’m smart about how I consume plants and make sure to do my research by using reliable sources.
    Yes, I do add dried cinnamomum verum and cloves and sometimes fresh lemon rinds/pulp and ginger to my oxymel and elixir. I’ll even throw in a bit of fir or pine needles in the mix for added medicinal terpenes. I find both oxymel and elixir to contain much medicine and nutrition and benefit those with whom I wish to share the remedy. Oxmels, being alcohol free, are good choices for those who wish to refrain from alcohol.

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