Elderberry syrup is a staple for many households during the cold and flu season. It’s easy to understand why when we look at the medicinal properties of this beautiful shrub.
Elderberries contain large amounts of potassium and beta-carotene, as well as sugar and fruit acids, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin C, tannins and flavonoids, including rutin and quercetin. They also contain a high concentration of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins, derived from the purple pigments, have many medicinal properties. Ongoing research in Europe on the anthocyanins found in the elderberry has shown them to exhibit antioxidant activity, immunostimulant properties, anti-viral activity (1,2,3), cardiovascular protection, and even stress reducing properties. Elderberries are also anti-inflammatory. They can be used for cold and flu, laryngitis, hay fever, sinusitis, rheumatism, sciatica, neuralgia and arthritis. The berries are also used in making elderberry wine and jam.
The flowers are a gentle nervine, helping to relax the nervous system. As a diaphoretic, elder flowers help encourage sweating which can be useful to reduce a fever. They are used as flavoring in Sambuca liqueur and elderflower wine. Both berries and flowers make a lovely tea. I like to use them together in many recipes. I feel that using different parts of the same plant adds layers of healing, both energtically and therapeutically.
The stems, roots, unripe berries, and seeds of elderberries contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside, and can cause a toxic buildup of cyanide in the body. They can induce vomiting and cause severe diarrhea if chewed or eaten uncooked. Don’t use berries from the red elder (Sambucus racemosa). Cooking, baking or drying the berries of other species makes them safe to consume. To more easily get the berries off the stems, I find it works best to freeze them them before destemming.
I’ve tried a lot of different elderberry syrups and each one is unique! I have to say, though, that this recipe is my favorite. It’s a slight twist from the recipe in my book Natural Remedies for the Fall: Preparing for Cold and Flu Season. Here it is for you: a delicious and effective winter remedy.
Add elderberries, elder flowers, water, cinnamon sticks, grated ginger, star anise, cardamom and clove buds to 5 cups water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes until the water is reduced to 2 1/2 cups. Strain well and mix in honey. You can store this syrup in the refrigerator, or preserve it for later by either freezing it or putting it in a canning jar in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
As a preventative: Adults: 1 tablespoon per day, Children: 1 teaspoon per day. Caution: do not use honey with children under 1 year of age.
When sick: Adults: 1 tablespoon per hour, Children: 1 teaspoon per hour. Caution: do not use honey with children under 1 year of age.
© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist, RH (AHG) 2019
About the Author:
The author of several books on herbal medicine and healing, clinical herbalist Elaine Sheff has been passionate about sharing herbal knowledge for over 25 years. Her latest book is Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Green Path Herb School, located in Missoula, Montana, where she strives to inspire and empower students and clients to remember their connection to the earth, the plants and their own healing process. She is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and teaches workshops, and at conferences, both nationally and internationally. Elaine has an International Certification in Aromatherapy from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy. As a certified Instructor of the Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Methods, Elaine has helped many couples to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. She has written numerous articles about her family’s journey with epilepsy and a special needs child. Elaine has written for publications including the Journal of Medicinal Plants and their Applications, Mamalode and AromaCulture magazine. Elaine’s workshops have been featured at conferences including the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, Montana Herb Gathering, Northwest Herb Symposium, Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference, Spokane Herbal Faire, the Ecoexpo, Mountain West Herb Gathering, Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence, and the Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference. You can often find her bent over an herb in her garden or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows with her husband and sons. If you’d like to learn more about medicinal plants, you can connect with Elaine, and Green Path Herb School via the Green Path Website or through social media: Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram. You can find out more about Elaine and her life work at GreenPathHerbSchool.com.
1. Morag, A.M., Mumcuoglu, M., Baybikov, T. et al. 1997. Inhibition of sensitive and acyclovir-resistant HSV-1 strains by an elderberry extract in vitro. Z Phytother. 25: 97-98.
2. Roschek, B., Fink, R.C., McMichael, M.D., Li, D., and Alberte, R.S. 2009. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 70(10): 1255-1261.
3. Zakay-Rones, Z., Varsano, N, Zlotnik, M., et al. 1995. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitroand reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1: 361-369.
Elder Herbal Reference Sheet, AromaCulture Magazine
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