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 fresh squished berries.
Fill jar with 2/3rds full with either brandy or apple cider vinegar, then top off to the top of the jar 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!
Antioxidant is a blanket name, really, for many groups of compounds in plants. Bioflavonoids, AKA antioxidants, 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 human body.
Let’s look into the antioxidants in elderberries. 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!
Elderberries contain a variety of polyphenols. Polyphenols are a class of flavonoids, AKA antioxidants. In plants, polyphenols role is to give fruits and veggies their color, contribute to bitter taste, astringency, aroma, and the stability of the plant. In us, polyphenols help to slow down or prevent the progression of diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Additionally, they fight free radicals, reduce the appearance of aging, reduce inflammation, protect the cardiovascular system, support normal blood sugar levels and blood pressure, promote brain health, protect the skin against UV rays.
Guess what? Studies show that organically grown food contain more polyphenols than non- organic food. Wild foods are packed with polyphenols!
Polyphenols help to positively influence the health of the gut ecology. Beneficial bacteria thrive in the gut with the addition of polyphenols, while bad bacteria are negatively impacted. What we eat directly influences the health of the structure of our gut and the demographics (the population and particular bacterial groups within it) of the bacteria in our intestines.
When processing elderberries, care must be taken to ensure that the medicinal components are intact in the menstruum. While 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, ascorbic acid, anthocyanins, 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).
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. Lectins in plants 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. Think about this: plants need protection from predators. They can’t run away or call the police or a doctor, so they devise ways to protect them including bitter tasting polyphenols, poisons, prickles, and the like. Genius!!!!!
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!
- 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/