Elders are fairly prolific in East TN, producing beautiful medicinal clusters of flowers in late June and early July, which then become delicious medicinal berries in late July and August. If you can beat the birds to them, these berries make delicious tincture and syrup for helping tone our immune system and fending off cold and flu season in the fall and spring. Below, I've included some more info about the medicinal properties of this plant, as well as a tasty recipe for elderberry syrup. It can sometimes be hard to locate elders in the city, so if you do not have a place to harvest from, Elizabeth Malayter of JEM Farm in Rogersville, TN, is the lady to talk to. JEM Farm sells at the Market Square Farmers' Market on Saturdays from 9am-2pm from May-November. If you are in need of elderberries, just send Elizabeth an email at email@example.com and let her know you are interested in purchasing them.
Black Elderberry Sambucus nigra
Parts used: Flowers, leaves, and berries
Medicinal uses: Elder has a long history of use in Europe and rightfully so. Both its flowers and berries have immunostimulating and antimicrobial properties making it appropriate for acute infections. However, unlike Echinacea, Elder is also considered an immune tonic, strengthening the immune system on a deeper level over time. Thus, both the berries and flowers can be used year-round as delicious food medicine! The leaf is used topically for bruises, sprains and wounds and can also be infused in oil and made into a salve. Elder flowers and berries are more indicated in the case of colds, flus, and other respiratory infections. The flowers are beneficial for treating sinus congestion and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, such as hayfever or sinusitis, as well as having antimicrobial, diaphoretic, antispasmodic (muscle relaxing) effects. When taken hot, elder flower tea will help sweat out a cold or fever. When cold, the tea has diuretic properties. The berries have similar properties to the flowers and can also help treat rheumatism. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. For breaking a fever, elderberries/flowers combine really well with peppermint and yarrow as a delicious tea.
Dosage: Tincture of flowers or berries: 1-4 dropperfuls (milliliters)/ 3x day. Tea: Infuse 1-2 tsp of dried flowers and/or berries/1 c water for at least 10 min. Elderberries can also be made into syrup, jam, wine, or baked with. Elder trees grow really well in this area and produce an abundance of berries in late summer, if you can beat the birds to them!
Contraindications: The seeds in the berries (particularly the red variety) can be toxic if taken raw . The seeds of species bearing purple, blue, and black berries are much less toxic. The fresh berries need to be juiced and the seeds removed before consumption. Cooking the berries also reduces toxicity.
(makes 1 pint)
1 1/3 cup of fresh or 2/3 c dried elderberries (blue or black variety)
3 1/2 c filtered water
1 tsp cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
1T fresh ginger or 1tsp dried
1 c raw, local honey
1) Pour water into a medium saucepan and add berries and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes, until liquid has reduced by about half.
2) Smash the berries to release remaining juices and then pour through a strainer into a glass jar or bowl. When the juice is lukewarm, add honey and stir well.
3) Once honey is well mixed in, pour syrup into a pint-size mason jar. Your Elderberry Syrup will last 2-3 months in the fridge. You can also add a little splash of vodka to help preserve your syrup even longer.
Dosage: For preventative care, 1/2-1 tsp/day for kids. For adults, 1/2-1 T/day. For acute infections, 1T/5x day for adults and 2tsp/5x day for children.
* I like to freeze extra berries to then make a second or even third batch later in the fall and winter to have for the spring cold/flu season.