We are all looking for ways to stay healthy these days. In addition to being careful about what we put into our bodies, there are many plants we can use as medicines or use as preventative measures to help us from relying on medicines in the first place. One way to achieve this is to keep our immune system in strong working order.
Elderberries and Their Immune Boosting Power
The berries are healthful, being rich in flavonoids and bioflavonoids. In a small fruit (berries) comparison by the USDA, elderberry came out on top even when compared to blueberry and cranberry. According to this study, elderberries have much more calcium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin A, and vitamin B6, than the other berries. The vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant, is particularly interesting at 600 IU compared to the next highest with blackberries having 214 IU and no other berry providing more than 70 IU, per 100 g.
There has been extensive scientific examination on the phytochemicals of elderberries regarding their potential infection-protecting properties. There are positive results in inhibiting influenza virus growth as well as blocking viral proteins from attaching to and entering host cells. There were also indications back in the 80s and 90s that elderberry decreased the duration and severity of the avian flu.
Immune Stimulating Elderberry Syrup Recipe
Taking this recipe down to its fundamentals, we are going to make a simple syrup that will last in the fridge for about a month. There is a lot of room to play with this basic recipe as you will see in the demonstration below.
- 1-part dried elderberry or 2-parts fresh elderberry (Sambucus Nigra or Sambucus Canadensis).
- 2-parts high-quality water, spring or distilled if available.
- 1/2-part honey or sweetener of your choice.
Choosing the Elderberries
There are two kinds of elderberry that grow in my area. Blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) which may be a subspecies of Sambucus nigra, but as it lacks the dark purple/black berry and due to the fact that it has not been studied to the extent as the black variety, I did not use these in this recipe. The Sambucus nigra and Sambucus canadensis, as mentioned above, have much more documented immune-stimulating powers in addition to nutritional and healthful benefits. Also growing wild in this area is red elderberry, Sambucus racemosa, which is only used ripe and cooked.
It should be noted that unripened, green elderberries along with all plant parts including leaves, stems, and roots, of the genus Sambucus, are considered poisonous and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Thus, these parts should be avoided, and only ripe elderberries and elderflowers should be consumed.
There is a lot of room to create your own variation on the above recipe. If you want to make a syrup that is more shelf-stable, you could double your sugar content or use alcohol (1/2-part) such as vodka or brandy. You could also use many variations of additional herbs, extracts, or flavorings. In the process below, I used ginger, clove, and cinnamon due to their immune-stimulating, health-protecting elements, warming effects, in addition to their wonderful flavor and aroma. You could take this in another direction, for example brightening the ingredients with lemon or citrus or adding comfort and smoothness with vanilla bean.
- 1 cup dried Black Elderberry
- 2 cups fresh spring water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 3 slices ginger
- ½ cup raw local honey
Put all ingredients into a pot, saving the honey until the very end.
Bring the ingredients to a boil. The aroma of Black Elderberry reminds me of a cross between huckleberry (vaccinium membranaceum) and black current (Ribes nigrum), delicious!
Let the ingredients simmer at a low temperature with a lid on for 30 to 40 minutes. We are making a decoction, or a concentration of the beneficial substances of the berries, so allow the ingredients to steep for at least one hour up to overnight.
Once the decoction is completed to your satisfaction, sieve the ingredients through cheesecloth or a fine wire mesh strainer depending on how “clean” you want your preparation. I don’t mind a little bit of plant debris, so I use a wire mesh strainer as I prefer the re-usability in most cases.
In a sterile jar, mix the raw local honey with the decoction. This way the beneficial properties of the honey remain intact, rather than cooking the honey with your herbs. Now we have the desired Elderberry syrup which will keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.
Using Elderberry syrup, in a daily dose of 1 teaspoon as a preventative measure, is a good start to stimulating our immune system to help it run efficiently as we age.
As I detest wasting anything including precious plants and herbs, I made a little experiment with the leftovers. A friend had just given us a special gift, some of his homemade liquor, akin to moonshine or white lightning, but beautiful, high-grade, and much like quite an expensive vodka. I placed the leftover berries, cinnamon, clove, and ginger in two sterile jars and filled to the top with the precious liquor. I will keep an eye on this daily for about a month and sieve the liquor to see if the result is either a nice liquor variation, or a medicinal tincture, or perhaps a cross between the two. You could try this with vodka or brandy as well.
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